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^NB^aytlurf a New Art i 

Bela Balazs was the first film critic 
to run a column in a daily paper. 
That was thirty years ago, and until 
his recent death he was known 
throughout Europe as a leading 
theoretician of the film. In addition, 
his vast practical experience in 
every sphere of film production also 
made him an expert whose advice 
was constantly being sought on all 
matters connected with the film. 
His books have been translated into 
a dozen or so languages. 

Yet, until now, his work was 
never available in English. This book 
may be said to be the sum of thirty 
years of thought and practical work. 
It is both an historical review of the 
development of film art — a develop- 
ment which Balazs believes to be as 
yet scarce begun — and an attempt to 
establish its specific laws and draw 
the line which divides it from all 
other arts. Balazs analyzes with an 
incomparable wealth and brilliance 
of ideas every factor which goes into 
the making of a film or governs the 
effect it produces on the spectator. 

Nothing about the film escapes 
his examination, from its theoretical 
aesthetics to the technicalities of 
scenario-writing, the refinements of 
lighting and camera-angle, or from 
silence in the sound film as a mode 
of expression to the implications of 
associative montage. 

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Bela Balazs 









All rights reserved 




Part I 





Dangers of ignorance; Why are people not taught 
to appreciate films?; Need for general culture; 
Creative culture; Theory as a new Columbus; A 
great opportunity missed. 


Movies and large-scale industry; Photographic 
theatre; New subjects; New characters; Slapstick 
comedy; Examples. 



Film culture; The colonial Englishman; The 
Siberian girl; We have learned to see; Why are 
old films funny?; Art does not develop. 



We are in the picture; Identification; A new 
philosophy of art; Principle of the microcosm; 
Ideology of the pioneers. 


What holds the sectional pictures together?; Sound 
is indivisible; Sound in space; The face of things; 
Visual life; Lyrical charm of the close-up; The 


A new dimension; Melody and physiognomy; Silent 
soliloquy; 'Polyphonic' play of features; Micro- 
physiognomy; Asta at the mirror; The Deputy of 
the Baltic Fleet; Speech and facial expression; 
Speech in the sound films; Asta speaks; An 
example from Russia; Dumb show; Keeping silent 
is no solution; Tempo of mimicry; Mute dialogues; 
Details of faces in close-up; I can see that I 
cannot see; Simplified acting; Changes in taste; 
Simple faces; Simple voices; Nature seems 
unnatural; Nature turned into art; Education in 
physiognomies; Children and savages; Group 
physiognomies; Class faces; Our unknown faces; 
The second face; Microdrama; Dramatic state; 
Camera rhythm; Commonplace dramatized; Crucial 
moment; Reality instead of truth. 


Synthesis of the photographed image; Sub- 
jectivity of the object; Deja vu; More about 
identification; Anthropomorphous worlds; Goethe 
on the film; Objective subjectivism; Theme with 
variations; Physiognomy of surroundings and 
background; Landscapes; How does reality become 
a theme?; The worker and the physiognomy of 
the machine; Physiognomy and symbol; Set-up 
accelerating rhythm; Distortion; Unfamiliar out- 
lines; Impossible outlines; Unusual angles denote 
unusual conditions; Film caricatures; Expressionism 
in the film; The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari; Decorative 
scenery; Film-impressionism; Impressions of events; 
Subjective impressionism; Indirect set-up; Symbolic 
angles; The human face as a mirror; Metaphors 
of the set-up; Empty phrases and Kitsch in 
pictures; Dangerous beauty; The work of art as 
object; Style and set-up; Style-conscious films. 


Inevitable interpretation; When the scissors lie; 
Pictures have no tenses; Time in the film; Time as 
theme and experience; Continuity of form and 
atmosphere; Creative editing; Idea-associative 
editing; Flashbacks; Metaphorical montage; 
Poetic montage; Allegoric montage; Literary 
metaphors; Associations of ideas; Intellectual 
montage; Rhythm in montage; Speed in action 
and speed in cutting; Scene in ritardando, shots 
in accelerando; Length of shots; Rhythm of the 
sound film; Musical and decorative rhythm in 
cutting; Subjective cutting; Walking; Sport in the 
film; Inexpressive sport. 


Experience of time; Dramatic quality of 



Fading; Secret of the diaphragm; The camera 
shows invisible things; Time perspective; Psychology 
of the dissolve; Time and sequence; Picture size 
and dissolves; Dissolves and simpler stories; 
Dissolves and the linking of space; Narcosis; 
Changes of scene without movement; Dissolve 
and mental picture; Photographed curtains. 

Part II 


Pure cinematography; Films without story or hero; 
Film without a hero; Travel films; Instructional 
films which have a hero; Unknown proximity; 
News films; Epics of labour; Showing man; War 
films; Nature films. 



Absolute film; Epistemology of aesthetics; Appear- 
ance of the outer world; Internal affairs; Conceptual 
films; Logic is the means, psychology the end; 
Surrealist films; Abstract film; Sound abstraction; 
Film sub-titles; False analogy. 



Significance of camera tricks; Masks; Film 
comedy; You can't kill a photograph; Psychology 
and length; Cartoons. 




A tragic prophecy; Blind alley; Prophecy; What 
do we demand?; The acoustic world; Discovery 
of noise; Dramaturgy of sound; Sound speaks up; 
Sounds as dramatis persona; Influence of 
accompanying music; A battle of sounds; Problem 
of the sound play; The picture forms the sound; 
Silence; Silence and space; Dramaturgical function 
of sound in the shot; Sound-explaining pictures; 
Asynchronous sound; Intimacy of sound; 
Sound cannot be isolated; Educating our ear; 
Sounds throw no shadow; Sounds have no sides; 
Sound has a space colouring; Basic problem of 
sound reproduction; Sounds cannot be represented 
by images; Sound montage; Sound dissolves; 
Asynchronous sound effects; The most expressive 
instrument; Asynchronous picture, synchronous 


Speech seen and speech heard; Silence is action; 
Audible gesture of speech; Why language dubbing 
is impossible; Esthetic law of impermeability; 
The film shot and the word; Speech as an irrational 
sound effect. 



Improbable sounds; Speech grotesques; Problem 
of the musical grotesque; Film music; Charlie 
Chaplin's secret; Perspectives of the sound film; 
Sparing use of sound; Rule of the word; Film 



Moving colours; Colour cutting; Stereoscopic 
films; Coloured cartoons. 



Lessing and the film; Parallel actions; Technical 
conditions and artistic principles. 



The epic; Style and stylization; Subjective and 
traditional stylization. 


Film opera. 



INDEX 289 


Thenameof Bela Balazs is probably known in England only 
as Bela Bartok's librettist and the author of children's books, 
yet among the intelligentsia of Europe he ranks as a classic pioneer 
in the sphere of film theory. In particular his two books, published 
originally in German, entitled Der sichtbare Mensch (1923) and Der 
Geist des Films, were rated among the most important contributions 
to the theory of film art. They were indeed pioneering works, but, 
unfortunately, they were not translated and published in English. 
The European generalisation about England still seems to hold 
good; that we are empiricists in art and despise theory. Certainly 
this appears to be so in relation to theatre and cinema, for the 
publication of original works in French, German and Russian is 
extremely large compared to the number of similar books published 
here. It is most important, therefore, that Bela Balazs's last book 
should be available in English, for it sums up all the work, thought, 
and experience he put into his previous pioneering works, which 
have since become classics. It is, alas, his last book. He died as it 
was being translated for us. 

This work in particular is, I think, one of the most lucid books 
on cinema art ever written and the very antithesis of Eisenstein's 
intellectual complexity and difficult style. Nevertheless, he and 
Eisenstein were both travelling to the same goal, towards an 
aesthetic of film art. 

The significant thing that Bela Balazs makes clear is the impor- 
tance of theory and the lack of appreciation of this in relation to 
'the only new art' — the film. The most important of the arts' 
Lenin called it in 1919, pronouncing an axiom which the Americans 
have been acting on for a long time! Balazs pointed out in his 
earlier books that we have an unprecedented opportunity to study 
the laws governing the evolution of an art in the making. It is an 
art that could only have been born in an industrial civilization and 
the universality of the film is primarily due to economic causes. The 
making of a film is so expensive that only very few nations have a 
home market sufficient for their productions. Added to this factor, 
of course, is the ideological one. The American film industry, for 
example is not only U.S.A.'s fourth largest industry but also the 
Fourth Arm of the State! 



An important aspect of film art that Belazs brings out is the 
psychological act of 'identification', which in the film reaches a 
degree hitherto unattainable in any other medium, and here Eisen- 
tein postulated a thesis which is completely in accord with Balazs. 

Eisenstein's conception is that cinema is a synthesis of all the 
arts and that, while Walter Pater said (I quote from memory) 'all 
art strives to reach the condition of music', Eisenstein said, 'all art 
strives to reach the form of the sound-colour-stereoscopic cinema', 
and that though Balazs writes, 'one need not take this ... to mean 
that for ages writers had been hatching film themes, film stories 
and film characters which could not be presented in novels or 
plays; that these poor authors had to wait decade after decade for 
the possibility of visual expression, until finally they went to the 
Lumiere brothers and ordered a cinematograph, the new form to fit 
the new content', yet on the other hand, there is no doubt that 
great artists from time to time seem to burst the bounds of their 
art forms, and their content is more powerful than their forms. 

Consider what such artists as Michaelangelo, Riviera, Tolstoy, 
and Balzac, could have done with the sound-colour-cinema ! They 
would one and all, I think, have cried to the heavens : Here is the 
medium I was striving to create, here is the dynamic flow of world 
and mind, here is both past, present and future, space and time, 
colour and sound, mind and matter, fused into one unity ! Here is 
the answer to the cry of Chorus in Shakespeare's Henry V: 'Oh 
for a muse of fire that would ascend the brightest heaven of 
invention ! ' 

As Balazs again points out, monumentality in art is not a 
question of quantity (as Hollywood often seems to think), 'A film 
can never be made " monumental " by the number of extras in 
crowd scenes or the size of the sets, but only by the weight of its 
theme or the personality of its hero. 

This book then is a pioneer classic in the realm of film theory, 
brought up-to-date by its author. Many of its one-time original 
ideas are now commonplace, but others still remain original. These 
demand the serious attention not only of film critics but of all those 
who are interested in the theory of art aesthetics and the powerful 
and all-pervading influence of the cinema. 

Herbert Marshall 
Bombay, India. 

July, 1952. 


appearing between pp. 128-9 

We are grateful to the British Film Institute for 
their co-operation in supplying these photographs. 


Chaplin and Jackie Coogan in the kid 
Rin-Tin-Tin in jaws of steel 

Asta Nielsen in die ewege natt 
Lilian Gish in broken blossoms 

Falconetti in the passion of joan of arc 


Max Linder 
Sessue Hayakawa 




















We all know and admit that film art has a greater in- 
fluence on the minds of the general public than any other art. 
The official guardians of culture note the fact with a certain 
amount of regret and uneasiness. But too few of us are suffi- 
ciently alive to the dangers that are an inevitable consequence 
of this fact. Nor do we realize clearly enough that we must 
be better connoisseurs of the film if we are not to be as much 
at the mercy of perhaps the greatest intellectual and spiritual 
influence of our age as to some blind and irresistible elemental 
force. And unless we study its laws and possibilities very care- 
fully, we shall not be able to control and direct this potentially 
greatest instrument of mass influence ever devised in the whole 
course of human cultural history. One might think that the 
theory of this art would naturally be regarded as the most 
important field for present-day art theory. No one would deny 
to-day that the art of the motion picture is the popular art of 
our century — unfortunately not in the sense that it is the pro- 
duct of the popular spirit but the other way round, in the sense 
that the mentality of the people, and particularly of the urban 
population, is to a great extent the product of this art, an art 
that is at the same time a vast industry. Thus the question of 
educating the public to a better, more critical appreciation of 
the films is a question of the mental health of the nations. 
Nevertheless, too few of us have yet realized how dangerously 
and irresponsibly we have failed to promote such a better 
understanding of film art. 




Nowadays social considerations are taken into account in 
the cultural sphere no less than in others. Nevertheless, the 
aesthetics of the film are nowhere included in the official teach- 
ing of art appreciation. Our academies have sections for litera- 
ture and every established art, but none for the new art of our 
day — the film. It was not until 1947 that the first film-maker 
was elected to the French Academie. At our universities there 
are chairs for literature and all arts except that of the film. The 
first Art Academy which included the theory of film art in its 
curriculum was opened in Prague in 1947. The text-books used 
in our secondary schools discuss the other arts but say nothing 
of the film. Millions hear about the aesthetics of literature and 
painting who will never make use of such knowledge because 
they read no books and look at no pictures. But the millions 
who frequent the movies are left without guidance — no one 
teaches them to appreciate film art. 


There are numerous film schools in the world and no one 
denies that there may be need of a theory of the film — for 
specialists. In Paris, in London, and elsewhere, film institutes 
and scientific film societies have been formed to study the 
'science' of the film. But what is needed is not specialized 
knowledge: it is a general level of culture. No one who had 
not the faintest conception of literature or music would be 
considered well educated. A man who had never heard of 
Beethoven or Michelangelo would be out of place among 
people of culture. But if he has not the faintest idea of the rudi- 
ments of film art and had never heard of Asta Nielsen or David 
Wark Griffith, he might still pass for a well-educated, cultured 
person, even on the highest level. The most important art of 
our time is that about which one need know nothing whatever. 
And yet it is an urgent need that we should cultivate enough 
discrimination to influence the art which shapes the popular 
taste in the highest degree. Until there is a chapter on film art 


in every text-book on the history of art and on aesthetics; until 
the art of the film has a chair in our universities and a place 
in the curriculum of our secondary schools, we shall not have 
firmly established in the consciousness of our generation this 
most important artistic development of our century. 


This is all the more important as what is at stake is not 
merely the proper valuation of the film, but the fate of the 
film itself, for this depends on our appreciation, and we are 
responsible for it. It has always been the rule in the history of 
art and culture that the two were functions of each other in 
dialectic interaction. Art educated the taste of the public, and 
the better taste of the public demanded and rendered possible 
the development of art to higher levels. 

In the case of the film this is a hundred times more so than 
in the case of any other art. It is conceivable for a writer to 
be in advance of his time and write in the solitude of his study 
a great book not appreciated in his own time; a painter may 
paint a picture, a composer compose music which only pos- 
terity with its higher culture and understanding can value. Such 
poets, painters or composers may perish, but their work lives. 

But in the case of the film a lack of proper appreciation 
kills, not the artist in the first place, but the work of art itself, 
smothering it even before it is born. The film as a product of 
a large-scale industry costs too much and is too complicated 
a collective creative process for any individual genius to create 
a masterpiece in defiance of the tastes or prejudices of his 
own day. And this applies not only to the capitalist film in- 
dustry which envisages immediate cash returns. Even a 
socialized film production cannot make films for the public 
of some coming century. A certain degree of success — in other 
words, appreciation — is an inexorable material postulate for 
the birth of any film. The situation is paradox : in the sphere 
of film art the public must be available before the film, the 
making of which is rendered possible only by an appreciation 
ensured in advance, on which the producers of the film can 
count. What is required is not a passive appreciation which 


enjoys what is already available, but an inspiring, encouraging, 
creative appreciation; we need theoretical understanding and 
a sort of aesthetics which does not draw conclusion from al- 
ready existing works of art but demands and expects such 
works of art on the basis of theoretical forecasts. What is 
wanted is a responsible public and canny aestheticists. 

That is the justification for the film societies which have 
now sprung up in most civilized countries. There have, of 
course, long been societies of music-lovers and the like, whose 
object was to afford opportunities for the enjoyment of the 
less popular and more valuable works of art and to give sup- 
port to good art and good artists, but only such art and artists 
as already existed. The theoretically expert members of film 
societies have a different task : they offer a ready-made public 
to the producer thereby encouraging him to dare try some- 
thing new and good. After all there are few capitalists who 
make bad films on principle and would not willingly make 
good films if good box-office returns were assured in advance 
— and if they knew a good film from a bad one. The public 
bears part of the responsibility for the development of the art 
of the film and a sense of this responsibility is slowly beginning 
to spread at last. From a Swiss audience I first heard the word 
'film-conscious' in the sense in which others use the word 
'class-conscious' and it is to be hoped that other picture- 
goers will increasingly become film-conscious in this sense. 

There are few among present-day aestheticists who deny in 
principle the artistic possibilities of the film, But many of them 
regard this new art as embryonic. Such critics would like to 
wait for some Shakespeare of the film and draw conclusions 
from the deathless works of the film classics. It remains to be 
asked : how will they recognize such works without a theoreti- 
cal, aesthetic understanding of the film? Where will they find 
the standards, the evaluating principles with which to demon- 
strate and explain the qualities of a film? 

Here is a great opportunity for aestheticists not merely to 
register and expound aesthetic values produced without their 
aid, but to participate in the production of such values and in 
the creation of the spiritual conditions which make them pos- 



A theory which demonstrates the direction and purpose of 
the intrinsic laws of development will not be merely an owl of 
Minerva which, as Schlegel puts it, does not begin its flight 
until dusk. It will be not only an a posteriori theory summing 
up foregone conclusions, but an initiating theory pointing into 
the future and drawing charts of unknown oceans for some 
future Columbus. It will be an inspiring theory that will fire 
the imagination of future seekers for new worlds and creators 
of new arts. We need not console ourselves with the argument 
that a 'general' good taste nurtured on other arts can be a 
sufficient directive influence for the development of a com- 
pletely new art. One of the aims of this book is precisely to 
prove that the deeply rooted old conceptions and valuations 
of an artistic culture nurtured on the old arts was the greatest 
obstacle to the development of film art in Europe. It was the 
old principles, inapplicable to a new art, which smothered 
the new principles at birth. Yet an aeroplane is not a bad 
motor-car because you can't drive it on a road. The traditional 
arts which have proved themselves by the momentum of a 
millenium of practice have less need of theoretical support 
than have those which have barely appeared above the horizon 
of the present. 


The fact that the art of the film is not yet fully developed 
offers an unprecedented opportunity for aestheticists to study 
the laws governing the evolution of an art in the making. 
Twenty-five years ago, in my Der sichtbare Mensch I already 
sounded the alarm, but then and since then, it was in vain. 
Aestheticists, historians of art, psychologists were offered the 
opportunity of watching a new art being born before their 
eyes. For the film is the only art whose birthday is known to 
us — the beginnings of all the others are lost in the fog of 
antiquity. The symbolic myths which tell of their birth throw 
no light on the mystery of why and how these arts and not 
others came into being, why and how they took the forms they 


took and why and how they came to be the most important 
manifestations of the human race. No digging in the ground 
and no archaeology can answer these whys and hows nor ex- 
plain the part played by incipient art in primitive societies. 
We do not know the social and economic conditions in which 
those arts came into being, nor the state of human conscious- 
ness which gave them birth. So our scholars have only hypo- 
theses or more or less daring surmises to fall back upon. But 
about fifty — or rather thirty — years ago a completely new art 
was born. Did the academies set up research groups? Did they 
observe, hour by hour and keeping precise records, how this 
embryo developed and in its development revealed the laws 
governing its vital processes? 

The scholars and academies let this opportunity pass, al- 
though for many centuries it was the first chance to observe, 
with the naked eye so to speak, one of the rarest phenomena 
of the history of culture: the emergence of a new form of 
artistic expression, the only one born in our time, and in our 
society and therefore the only one with the material, intellec- 
tual and spiritual determinants of which we are entirely fami- 
liar. It would have been worth while to seize this opportunity 
because — if for no other reason — knowledge of the evolu- 
tionary process of this new form of artistic expression would 
per analogiam have provided a key to many secrets of the 
older arts. 




I call this chapter ancient history, because it deals with 
the period when moving pictures were a fairground sideshow, 
not an art. 

It was in March 1 895 that the Lumiere brothers in France 
completed their film camera. But the new means of expression 
and the new form-language of film art were not born until ten 
or twelve years later, in the United States. Thus the technical 
facilities for film-making were already in the hands of a 
wealthy capitalist group at the end of the last century, but 
French cinematography nevertheless failed to produce a single 
manifestation of the new art. So the art of the film did not 
automatically grow out of the French cinematographic camera, 
nor was it a mechanical result of the general laws of vision. 
Other forces were required to bring into existence the new art 
and it is not by chance that it was born, not in Europe, but in 
the United States. 

The technique of cinematography took shape in the very 
beginning of the twentieth century, and it was not by accident 
that it emerged at the time when other intellectual products 
were also beginning to be produced on a large industrial scale. 
It was in this same period that the giant publishing houses, the 
great theatrical concerns and concert agencies, the newspaper 
trusts and wholesale picture-dealing were born. The wholesale 
industrialization of art and literature did not start with the 
film, but the film arrived when this trend was just gathering 




The new invention was immediately used for the large-scale 
exploitation of dramatic art. The cinematographic camera 
made it possible to substitute a machine-made — one might say 
'industrial' — production for the actual flesh-and-blood 'hand- 
made' performance of the stage. It was turned into a com- 
modity capable of being reproduced in unlimited quantities, 
and distributed at low cost. The first great general contract 
in this industry was the agreement between the firm of Pathe 
Freres and the Societe des Auteurs Dramatiques which pro- 
vided for the photography of stage performance and the dis- 
tribution of the films thus obtained. 

In those years cinematography was merely a fairground 
sideshow, a moving picture of some sensational event or a 
means to the mass reproduction of stage performances. It was 
not an autonomous art ruled by its own laws. Nevertheless, 
even though the film was still only photographed theatre, the 
wider technical possibilities soon led film producers to photo- 
graph scenes which would have been impossible on a closed 
stage and even on an open-air stage of the usual kind — the 
stage of the film play was soon all the earth. Thus even the 
photographed theatre, from the very start, widened and en- 
riched the dramatic art of the closed stage not only by spec- 
tacular effects but by such subjects and actions which were 
made possible only by the fact that natural phenomena could 
now be shown and therefore dramatized. 


Urban Gad, the famous Danish film producer, wrote a book 
on the film as far back as 1918. This wise and sound book 
makes no mention as yet of the new form-language proper to 
the new art — at that time Urban Gad knew nothing of this. 
Hence he dealt chiefly with the specific new subjects suitable 
for film presentation. According to him every film should be 
placed in some specific natural environment which must affect 
the human beings living in it and play a part in directing their 
lives and destinies. Thus a new personage is added to the 


dramatis persona of the photographed play: nature itself, a 
personage who could not have appeared on the ordinary stage. 
But the new dramatis persona followed the same rules as the 
old familiar stage personalities and settings. The stage was 
widened but its basic principles remained the same, even 
though the play may have been enriched by certain dramatic 
features through the present action of the immediate effect of 
nature on the moods and feelings of human beings which 
sometimes exercise a decisive influence on their fate. 

This novelty, this enrichment of subject matter became the 
specific characteristic of the photographed theatre. It is natural 
that under the pressure of competition it developed in a direc- 
tion in which the old theatre could not follow it. In the first 
years of the movies the emphasis was mainly on movement. 
This was the time of Westerns, in which galloping horses, 
jumping, rapid travel, running, climbing, swimming, became 
the most important elements of a film story. Very often that 
was all there was to it. The film showed what one could not 
see anywhere else. 


Soon, however, new characters appeared in the films, 
characters which could only rarely and under great difficulties 
appear on the real stage. Children and animals took the stage 
— new characters in the old art of photographed theatre. Some 
of the first film stars were the famous panther of Pathe, the 
no less famous Alsatian Rin-Tin-Tin and the gifted and en- 
chanting infant prodigy Jackie Coogan, Charlie Chaplin's pal, 
the Kid, an unforgettable little artist of the very highest order. 
These were characters of a new kind who had been introduced 
into the old art of the theatre by the new technical possibili- 
ties. Thus it was that even in its infancy the film brought new 
subjects, new stories and even new characters into the world, 
long before it could develop its own specific means of ex- 
pression, its own peculiar form-language. 


At this time a new specific art form was born : the slapstick 
comedy. Its hero was not so new and original a character as 


children and animals were; he was only a reincarnation of our 
old friend the clown, complete with stooge. These two, bor- 
rowed from the circus ring, are the most ancient figures in all 
the history of the theatre. But the specific art of the clown and 
comedian had no possibility of further development in the 
ring and on the music-hall stage. The wider space required for 
a development of their style was provided by the open-air 
play, of which the film was a photographic image. 

The first such films had a stereotyped ending, no less stan- 
dardized than the final kiss of the later film-with-the-happy- 
ending. The stereotyped finale of the old slapstick comedy 
was a general rush. The hero gets into hot water and runs 
away; he is pursued by one man, by two men, by thirty men 
and finally by every single character in the film, irrespective 
of whether they had anything to do with the fugitive or not. 
A human avalanche was let loose, carrying everything before 
it in a senseless and purposeless rush. This movement, quite 
divorced as it was from the story, amused people; they saw 
in it the essence of the motion picture and in fact the sub- 
strata of human life. 

In the course of the subsequent development of film art the 
slapstick comedy still remained a hardy perennial, just as 
children and animals never ceased to be popular film charac- 
ters. Thus a definite variety of film art with a distinctive style 
of its own was born before the specific new method of film art 
and the new form-language of the film was developed. What 
is the explanation for this? 

The photographed play had a peculiarity distinguishing it 
from the five stage : it was silent. With the subsequent develop- 
ment of the silent film the place of the dialogue was taken by 
a detailed, expressive play of features and gestures, shown in 
close-up. In the beginning the motion picture was mute even 
as to facial expression, for the scenes were seen as a whole, 
in long shot, as in the theatre. Hence it was necessary to act 
in dumb-show, with exaggerated grotesque gestures which 
could be seen from a distance and which, if seen now, make 
an irresistibly amusing impression on the spectators. Thus one 
of the deficiencies of the primitive motion picture, its mute- 
ness, served as a style-creating element through the comic 


quality of the dumb-show. A new dramaturgy of strictly panto- 
mimic comic situations was born; a comedy of situations 
which needed neither the elucidating word, nor the individual- 
izing play of facial expression. 


Let me tell the story of a fine example of this immemorial 
art form: Max Linder, one of the first film comedians goes 
out to buy a bathtub. Having bought it, he wants to carry it 
home himself. But the tub is large and there are many laughs 
in the way he tries to lift it and carry it. After a series of 
grotesque acrobatic contortions he finally puts the tub on his 
head, like a gigantic hat. The tub is heavy and gradually 
weighs its bearer down. Finally Linder crawls along on all 
fours, completely hidden by the tub. The tub thus appears to 
walk along on its own on the crowded pavement, frightening 
passers-by and annoying the dogs who crowd around it and 
bark their heads off. Tub reaches Linder's house at last, climbs 
up the stairs and wants to enter Linder's flat. But it is wider 
than the door. Linder now crawls out from beneath the 
tub and because he cannot get it into the flat, puts it on the 
landing in front of the door and badly wanting a bath, pro- 
ceeds to fill the tub with water brought in jugfuls from the flat. 
He then calmly strips and gets into the tub. At this moment 
two ladies come up the stairs. The modest Linder dives under 
the water. But the ladies have seen him and indignantly call 
the caretaker. The caretaker tries to remove Linder by force, 
but he resists by using the most effective weapon — he splashes 
water at the caretaker. Here is that grain of psychological 
reality which in a farce, among all the absurdities, has the 
greatest comic effect. For one real and convincing feature 
lends a spurious reality to all the others. The huge caretaker 
is more afraid of the water than of a bludgeon. This appears 
credible to everyone. He sends for the police. Linder splashes 
away fiercely, heroically and the police are daunted. This, too, 
is convincing by now. Finally firemen arrive who overcome 
the water weapon with a water weapon of their own. 

This bit of fun is most filmic, not only because a number 


of things are made visible in it which cannot be shown on the 
real stage, but also because these new motifs represent a type 
of grotesque psychological reaction which could not have been 
shown in the past. 

The first brilliant shorts made by Charlie Chaplin were in 
a similar style. His struggle with a demoniac rocking-chair 
from which, once seated, he cannot escape. Or his duel with 
the malicious revolving door that always turns him out into 
the street again, Or the first lesson in roller-skating, when the 
skates strapped to his feet rebel and declare their independ- 
ence. The deeper meaning of Chaplin's 'clumsiness' lies in the 
fact that his struggle with objects not only reveals their 
demoniac personality but turns them into equal, even superior, 
opponents. They defeat Chaplin because he, in his unobjec- 
tivized humanity, cannot adapt himself to their mechanical 
nature. This art grew out of the very essence of the silent film, 
out of the essence of the silent, but distant, undifferentiated 
and hence theatre-like picture. At that time movement had not 
yet acquired that intimate emotional significance which could 
be observed only in close-up. On the contrary, the whole of 
the movement, the amusing struggle of the hero, provided 
the comic effect. 

It is characteristic that the birth of the sound film and the 
talkie marked the end of this type of slapstick comedy which 
had given us the first world-famous film stars such as Max 
Linder, Prince, Cretinetti and Charlie Chaplin. The great 
comedians of the second generation, Harold Lloyd and Buster 
Keaton, appeared when the silent film was already fully 
developed, when the new art was already using camera angles 
and close-ups. For this reason these new protagonists had more 
of the individual, psychologizing character-actor, even in their 
performances as comedians. Nevertheless they were unable to 
adapt their art to the needs of the sound film, because their 
humour was born of the spirit of the silent photographed 
stage. Even for the great Charlie Chaplin the change-over to 
the sound film brought a profound crisis, the significance of 
which is to be discussed later. 

From its earliest years the film also had yet another special 
feature. The film could conjure better than any platform 


magician. George Melies, himself originally a professional 
illusionist and conjurer, soon discovered what miracles could 
be performed with the aid of film technique : men and objects 
could be made to disappear, to fly through the air, to change 
into each other. There is scarcely a technical trick of which 
the camera is capable, which Melies did not use in the very 
first years of cinematography. But what he did was neverthe- 
less only photographed theatre. For if some cunning stage 
trick were to make it possible to make characters vanish, fly 
through the air or change into something else on the real 
stage, this would still not change the eternal forms and basic 
principles of the theatre. 



If the film had from its infancy produced specific new 
subjects, new characters, a new style, even a new art form, 
why then do I say that it was not yet a new art, but merely 
a photographic copy of a stage performance? When and how 
did cinematography turn into a specific independent art em- 
ploying methods sharply differing from those of the theatre 
and using a totally different form-language? What is the differ- 
ence between photographed theatre and film art? Both being 
equally motion pictures projected on to a screen, why do I 
say that the one is only a technical reproduction and the other 
an independently creative art? 

The basic formal principle of the theatre is that the spec- 
tator sees the enacted scene as a whole in space, always seeing 
the whole of the space. Sometimes the stage presents only one 
corner of a larger hall, but that corner is always totally visible 
all through the scene in question, and everything that happens 
in it is seen within one and the same frame. 

The second basic formal principle of the theatre is that the 
spectator always sees the stage from a fixed unchanging dis- 
tance. True, the photographed theatre already began to photo- 
graph different scenes from different distances, but within one 
and the same scene the distance was never changed. 

The third basic formal principle of the theatre is that the 
spectator's angle of vision does not change. The photographed 
theatre did change the perspective sometimes from scene to 
scene, but within one and the same scene the perspective never 
changed, any more than the distance. 

These three basic formal principles of the stage are of 
course interconnected, they form the groundwork of dramatic 
style and means of expression. In this connection it makes no 
difference whether we see the scenes on the living stage or in 



photographic reproduction; nor does it matter whether the 
scenes presented are such as could not be shown on the stage 
at all, but only in the open air and by means of photographic 

It was these three basic principles of theatrical art that were 
discarded by the art of the film — it begins where the three 
principles no longer apply and are supplanted by new 
methods. These are: 

1. Varying distance between spectator and scene within one 
and the same scene; hence varying dimensions of scenes that 
can be accommodated within the frame and composition of 
a picture. 

2. Division of the integral picture of the scene into sections, 
or 'shots'. 

3. Changing angle, perspective and focus of 'shots' within 
one and the same scene. 

4. Montage, that is the assembly of 'shots' in a certain 
order in which not only whole scene follows whole scene 
(however short) but pictures of smallest details are given, so 
that the whole scene is composed of a mosaic of frames 
aligned as it were in chronological sequence. 

This revolutionary innovation in visual artistic expression 
came about in the United States of America, in Hollywood, 
during the first world war. David Griffith was the name of the 
genius to whom we owe it. He not only created masterpieces 
of art, but an art that was totally new. 

One of the specific characteristics of the art of the film is 
that not only can we see, in the isolated 'shots' of a scene, 
the very atoms of life and their innermost secrets revealed at 
close quarters, but we can do so without any of the intimate 
secrecy being lost, as always happens in the exposure of a 
stage performance or of a painting. The new theme which the 
new means of expression of film art revealed was not a hurri- 
cane at sea or the eruption of a volcano: it was perhaps a 
solitary tear slowly welling up in the corner of a human eye. 

A good film director does not permit the spectator to look 
at a scene at random. He leads our eye inexorably from detail 
to detail along the line of his montage. By means of such a 
sequence the director is enabled to place emphasis where he 


sees fit, and thus not only show but at the same time interpret 
the picture. It is in this that the individual creativeness of a 
film-maker chiefly manifests itself. Two films in which story 
and acting are exactly the same, but which are differently cut, 
may be the expression of two totally different personalities 
and present two totally different images of the world. 



Thebirthof film art led not only to the creation of new 
works of art but to the emergence of new human faculties 
with which to perceive and understand this new art. 

It is a great pity that the scholars dealing with the arts have 
up to now concerned themselves chiefly with already existing 
works of art and not at all with the subjective faculties which, 
created through a dialectical interaction, enable us to see and 
appreciate the newly-emerging beautiful things. Although 
objective reality is independent of the subject and his subjec- 
tive consciousness, beauty is not merely objective reality, not 
an attribute of the object entirely independent of the spectator, 
not something that would be there objectively even without a 
corresponding subject, even if there were no human beings on 
earth. For beauty is what we like — we know of no other beauty 
— and this human experience is not something independent, 
but a function changing with races, epochs and cultures. 
Beauty is a subjective experience of human consciousness 
brought about by objective reality; it has its own laws, but 
those laws are the universal laws of consciousness and to that 
extent of course not purely subjective. 

The philosophy of art has in the past devoted little attention 
to the subject, the carrier of an artistic culture, whose sensibi- 
lity and receptivity not only develop under the influence of 
the arts, but may actually be created by them. What is required 
is not merely a history of art but a history of art running to 
and linked with a history of mankind. 

It is the purpose of this book to investigate and outline that 
sphere of the development of human sensibility which 
developed in mutual interaction with the evolution of the art 
of the film. 




The evolution of the human capacity for understanding 
which was brought about by the art of the film, opened a new 
chapter in the history of human culture. Just as musical hear- 
ing and musical understanding develop under the influence of 
music, so the development of the material richness of film art 
leads to a parallel development of film vision and film appre- 
ciation. The forms of expression of the silent film developed 
gradually, but the rate of development was fast enough and 
together with it the public developed the ability to understand 
the new form-language. We were witnesses not only of the 
development of a new art but of the development of a new 
sensibility, a new understanding, a new culture in its public. 


There is a story about an English colonial administrator, 
who, during the first world war and for some time after it, 
lived in a backward community. He regularly received news- 
papers and periodicals from home, thus knew of films, and 
had seen pictures of the stars and had read film reviews and 
film stories; but he had never seen a motion picture. As soon 
as he reached a place where there was a cinema, he went to 
see a film. A number of children around him seemed to enjoy 
it very much, but he was completely baffled by what he saw 
and was quite exhausted when at last the film came to an end. 

'Well, how did you like it?' asked a friend. 

Tt was very interesting,' he said, 'but what was it all about?' 

He had not understood what was going on, because he did 
not understand the form-language in which the story of the 
film was told, a form-language every town-dweller already 
knew at that time. 


This story was told to me by a friend in Moscow. A cousin 
had arrived on a visit from a Siberian collective farm — an 
intelligent girl, with a good education, but who had never 


seen a motion picture (this of course was many years ago). 
The Moscow cousins took her to the cinema and having other 
plans, left her there by herself. The film was a burlesque. The 
Siberian cousin came home pale and grim. 'Well, how did you 
like the film?' the cousins asked her. She could scarcely be 
induced to answer, so overwhelmed was she by the sights she 
had seen. At last she said: 'Oh, it was horrible, horrible! I 
can't understand why they allow such dreadful things to be 
shown here in Moscow ! ' 

'Why, what was so horrible then?' 

'Human beings were torn to pieces and the heads thrown 
one way and the bodies the other and the hands somewhere 
else again.' 

We know that when Griffith first showed a big close-up in 
a Hollywood cinema and a huge 'severed' head smiled at the 
public for the first time, there was a panic in the cinema. We 
ourselves no longer know by what intricate evolution of our 
consciousness we have learnt our visual association of ideas. 
What we have learnt is to integrate single disjointed pictures 
into a coherent scene, without even becoming conscious of the 
complicated psychological process involved. It is amazing to 
what extent we have, in a couple of decades, learnt to see 
picture perspectives, picture metaphors and picture symbols, 
how greatly we have developed our visual culture and 


Thus the new technique of the film camera produced a new 
way of presentation and a new way of telling a story. The new 
picture language was developed, polished and differentiated 
to an incredible degree in the course of some twenty years. 
We can almost measure this process by harking back twenty 
years, when we ourselves would probably not have under- 
stood films which are quite obvious to spectators to-day. Here 
is an instance. A man hurries to a railway station to take leave 
of his beloved. We see him on the platform. We cannot see 
the train, but the questing eyes of the man show us that his 
beloved is already seated in the train. We see only a close-up 


of the man's face, we see it twitch as if startled and then strips 
of light and shadow, light and shadow flit across it in quicken- 
ing rhythm. Then tears gather in the eyes and that ends the 
scene. We are expected to know what happened and to-day we 
do know, but when I first saw this film in Berlin, I did not 
at once understand the end of this scene. Soon, however, 
everyone knew what had happened: the train had started 
and it was the lamps in its compartment which had thrown 
their light on the man's face as they glided past ever faster 
and faster. 

Another example. A man is sitting in a dark room in gloomy 
meditation. The spectator knows from the previous scene that 
a woman is in the next room. We see a close-up of the man's 
face. Suddenly a light falls on it from one side. The man raises 
his head and looks towards the light with an expression of 
hopeful expectation. Then the light fades from his face and 
with it the expression of hope. He lowers his head in dis- 
appointment. Complete darkness falls slowly. It is the last shot 
of a tragic scene. No more is needed. What happened here? 
Every picture-goer knows and understands this language now. 
What happened was that the door of the next room opened 
for a moment, the woman came to the threshold of the lighted 
room, hesitated, but turned back and closed the door for ever. 
Even this 'for ever' could be felt in the slow and complete 
darkening of the picture. Precisely the fact that no more was 
shown stimulated our imagination and induced the right mood 
in us. Therein lay its subtlety. 


To-day we understand not only the situation presented in 
a picture but every shade of its significance and symbolic 
implications. The rapidity of our evolution towards this new 
understanding can be measured by looking at old films. We 
laugh aloud, especially at the grimmest tragedies, and can 
scarcely believe that such antics could be taken seriously a 
mere twenty years ago. What is the reason for this? Other 
old works of art do not appear funny to us and we rarely feel 
like laughing even at the most naive and primitive art. 


The reason is that old art usually expresses the mentality 
of a bygone age in adequate form. But what we see in a film 
we relate to our own selves, it is not yet 'history' and we 
laugh at our own recent selves. It is not yet a historical 
costume that can be beautiful and dignified, however strange 
it may be — it is merely the fashion of the last year but one 
which strikes us as comic. 

Primitive art is the adequate expression of primitive taste 
and skill. The primitiveness of old films gives the impression 
of grotesque impotence. A spear in the hand of a naked savage 
is not as comic as a pike in the hands of a Home Guard. 
While a fifteenth-century Portuguese sailing-ship is a lovely 
sight, the early steam-engines and motor-cars are ridiculous 
because we see in them not something quite different, some- 
thing no longer existent, but recognize a ridiculous, imperfect 
form of what is still in use to-day. We laugh at it as we laugh 
at the antics in the monkey-house — because the monkeys are 
like ourselves. 

For the culture of the film has developed so rapidly that 
we still recognize our own selves in its clumsy primitiveness. 
It is for this reason that this culture is of so great an import- 
ance for us, this art which is accessible to millions of ordinary 


We should realize that, while art has a history, it has no 
development in the sense of growth or increase in cssthetic 
values. We do not consider the paintings of Renoir or Monet 
more precious or perfect than those of Cimabue or Giotto. 
There is no development in the objective side of art but there 
is development on the part of those who enjoy art or are 
connoisseurs of art. Artistic culture has not only a history, it 
also has an evolution in a certain direction. Subjective human 
sensibility, the faculty of understanding and interpreting art 
has demonstrably developed in continuous cultures, and when 
we speak of a development of subjective human faculties, we 
do not mean the development of aesthetic values. For instance 
the discovery and application of perspective in art did not in 


itself imply an increase in artistic values. The rules of perspec- 
tive are learned in school to-day by every ungifted dauber, but 
that does not make him a greater artist than Giotto who knew 
nothing of these rules. The former will not be a greater artist, 
but his visual sensibility, his culture will be on a higher level. 
The discovery of the rules of perspective drawing played a 
much greater part in the evolution of general human culture 
than in the evolution of art. It enriched the culture of the eye 
far more than that of painting. It did of course pervade the 
routine of painting, but it is much more important that it has 
come to be an indispensible element in the everyday life of 
civilized man. 



This chapter which deals with the visual culture 
developed through the silent film is taken from my book 
Der sichtbare Mensch. In it I hailed the silent film as a turning- 
point in our cultural history, not suspecting that the sound 
film would soon come to oust it. The truth which stated a 
then existing reality has remained true, but the reality it dealt 
with has bolted like a runaway horse and has made new 
observations and interpretations necessary. Nevertheless, this 
chapter may be of interest not merely as a chapter in the 
history of film theory. Nor does it perhaps retain its interest 
only because the picture still remains the essence of the film 
and its visual content. Lines of development are never rigidly 
set. They often proceed in a roundabout way, throwing the 
light of old knowledge on to new paths through dialectical 
interaction. Because I believe that we have now come to such 
a doubling back in the development of the film, when the 
already once accomplished and then again lost achievements 
of the silent film are about to be revalued and restored, I want 
to quote here what I wrote in 1923 about the silent film: 

The discovery of printing gradually rendered illegible the 
faces of men. So much could be read from paper that the 
method of conveying meaning by facial expression fell into 

Victor Hugo wrote once that the printed book took over the 
part played by the cathedral in the Middle Ages and became 
the carrier of the spirit of the people. But the thousands of 
books tore the one spirit, embodied in the cathedral, into thou- 
sands of opinions. The word broke the stone into a thousand 
fragments, tore the church into a thousand books. 



The visual spirit was thus turned into a legible spirit and 
visual culture into a culture of concepts. This of course had 
its social and economic causes, which changed the general face 
of life. But we paid little attention to the fact that, in con- 
formity with this, the face of individual men, their foreheads, 
their eyes, their mouths, had also of necessity and quite con- 
cretely to suffer a change. 

At present a new discovery, a new machine is at work to 
turn the attention of men back to a visual culture and give 
them new faces. This machine is the cinematographic camera. 
Like the printing press, it is a technical device for the multi- 
plication and distribution of products of the human spirit; its 
effect on human culture will not be less than that of the print- 
ing press. 

For not to speak does not mean that one has nothing to say. 
Those who do not speak may be brimming over with emotions 
which can be expressed only in forms and pictures, in gesture 
and play of feature. The man of visual culture uses these 
not as substitutes for words, as a deaf-mute uses his fingers. 
He does not think in words, the syllables of which he sketches 
in the air like the dots and dashes of the Morse code. The 
gestures of visual man are not intended to convey concepts 
which can be expressed in words, but such inner experiences, 
such non-rational emotions which would still remain un- 
expressed when everything that can be told has been told. Such 
emotions lie in the deepest levels of the soul and cannot be 
approached by words that are mere reflexions of concepts; 
just as our musical experiences cannot be expressed in ration- 
alized concepts. What appears on the face and in facial expres- 
sion is a spiritual experience which is rendered immediately 
visible without the intermediary of words. 

In the golden age of the old visual arts, the painter and 
sculptor did not merely fill empty space with abstract shapes 
and forms, and man was not merely a formal problem for 
the artist. Painters could paint the spirit and the soul without 
becoming 'literary', for the soul and the spirit had not yet been 
confined in concepts capable of expression only by means of 
words; they could be incarnated without residue. That was the 
happy time when paintings could still have a 'theme' and an 


'idea', for the idea had not yet been tied to the concept and 
to the word that named the concept. The artist could present 
in its primary form of manifestation the soul's bodily incarna- 
tion in gesture or feature. But since then the printing press has 
grown to be the main bridge over which the more remote 
interhuman spiritual exchanges take place and the soul has 
been concentrated and crystallized chiefly in the word. There 
was no longer any need for the subtler means of expression 
provided by the body. For this reason our bodies grew soul- 
less and empty — what is not in use, deteriorates. 

The expressive surface of our body was thus reduced to the 
face alone and this not merely because the rest of the body 
was hidden by clothes. For the poor remnants of bodily expres- 
sion that remained to us the little surface of the face sufficed, 
sticking up like a clumsy semaphore of the soul and signalling 
as best it could. Sometimes a gesture of the hand was added, 
recalling the melancholy of a mutilated torso. In the epoch of 
word culture the soul learnt to speak but had grown almost 
invisible. Such was the effect of the printing press. 

Now the film is about to inaugurate a new direction in our 
culture. Many million people sit in the picture houses every 
evening and purely through vision, experience happenings, 
characters, emotions, moods, even thoughts, without the need 
for many words. For words do not touch the spiritual con- 
tent of the pictures and are merely passing instruments of as 
yet undeveloped forms of art. Humanity is already learning 
the rich and colourful language of gesture, movement and 
facial expression. This is not a language of signs as a substi- 
tute for words, like the sign-language of the deaf-and-dumb — 
it is the visual means of communication, without intermediary 
of souls clothed in flesh. Man has again become visible. 

Linguistic research has found that the origins of language 
lie in expressive movement, that is, that man when he began 
to speak moved his tongue and lips to no greater extent than 
the other muscles of his face and body — just as an infant does 
to-day. Originally the purpose was not the making of sounds. 
The movement of tongue and lips was at first the same spon- 
taneous gesturing as every other expressive movement of the 
body. That the former produced sounds was a secondary. 


adventitious phenomenon, which was only later used for prac- 
tical purposes. The immediately visible message was thus 
turned into an immediately audible message. In the course 
of this process, as in every translation, a great deal was lost. 
It is the expressive movement, the gesture, that is the aborigi- 
nal mother-tongue of the human race. 

Now we are beginning to remember and re-learn this tongue. 
It is still clumsy and primitive and very far removed as yet 
from the refinements of word art. But already it is beginning 
to be able sometimes to express things which escape the artists 
of the word. How much of human thought would remain un- 
expressed if we had no music! The now developing art of 
facial expression and gesture will bring just as many submerged 
contents to the surface. Although these human experiences are 
not rational, conceptual contents, they are nevertheless neither 
vague nor blurred, but as clear and unequivocal as is music. 
Thus the inner man, too, will become visible. 

But the old visible man no longer exists to-day and the new 
visible man is not yet in existence. As I have said before, it 
is the law of nature that unused organs degenerate and dis- 
appear, leaving only rudiments behind. The animals that do 
not chew lose their teeth. In the epoch of word culture we 
made little use of the expressive powers of our body and have 
therefore partly lost that power. The gesturing of primitive 
peoples is frequently more varied and expressive than that of 
the educated European whose vocabulary is infinitely richer. 
A few more years of film art and our scholars will discover 
that cinematography enables them to compile encyclopedias 
of facial expression, movement and gesture, such as have long 
existed for words in the shape of dictionaries. The public, 
however, need not wait for the gesture encyclopaedia and gram- 
mars of future academies : it can go to the pictures and learn 
it there. 

We had, however, when we neglected the body as a means 
of expression, lost more than mere corporal power of ex- 
pression. That which was to have been expressed was also 
narrowed down by this neglect. For it is not the same spirit, 
not the same soul that is expressed once in words and once in 
gestures. Music does not express the same thing as poetry in 


a different way — it expresses something quite different. When 
we dip the bucket of words in the depths, we bring up other 
things than when we do the same with gestures. But let no 
one think that I want to bring back the culture of movement 
and gesture in place of the culture of words, for neither can 
be a substitute for the other. Without a rational, conceptual 
culture and the scientific development that goes with it there 
can be no social and hence no human progress. The connecting 
tissue of modern society is the word spoken and written, with- 
out which all organization and planning would be impossible. 
On the other hand fascism has shown us where the tendency 
to reduce human culture to subconscious emotions in place of 
clear concepts would lead humanity. 

What I am talking about is only art and even here there is 
no question of displacing the more rational art of the word. 
There is no reason why we should renounce one sort of human 
achievement in favour of another. Even the most highly 
developed musical culture need not crowd out some more 
rational aspect of culture. 

But to return to the simile of the bucket : we know that the 
wells that dry up are the wells from which no water is dipped. 
Psychology and philology have shown that our thoughts and 
feelings are determined a priori by the possibility of express- 
ing them. Philology is also aware that it is not only concepts 
and feelings that create words, but that it is also the other 
way round : words give rise to concepts and feelings. This is 
a form of economy practised by our mental constitution which 
desires to produce unusable things just as little as does our 
physical organism. Psychological and logical analysis has 
shown that words are not merely images expressing our 
thoughts and feelings but in most cases their a priori limiting 
forms. This is at the root of the danger of stereotyped banality 
which so often threatens the educated. Here again the evolu- 
tion of the human spirit is a dialectical process. Its develop- 
ment increases its means of expression and the increase of 
means of expression in its turn facilitates and accelerates its 
development. Thus if then the film increases the possibilities 
of expression, it will also widen the spirit it can express. 

Will this newly developing language of facial expression and 


expressive gesture bring human beings closer to each other or 
the contrary? Despite the tower of Babel there were concepts 
common to all behind the different words and one could also 
learn the languages of others. Concepts on the other hands, 
have, in civilized communities, a content determined by con- 
vention. A universally valid grammar was an even more potent 
unifying principle holding together the individuals who in 
bourgeois society were prone to become estranged and isolated 
from each other. Even the literature of extreme subjectivism 
used the common vocabulary and was thus preserved from 
the loneliness of final misunderstanding. 

But the language of the gestures is far more individual and 
personal than the language of words, although facial expres- 
sion, too, has its habitual forms and conventionally accepted 
interpretations, to such an extent that one might — and should 
— write a comparative 'gesturology' on the model of compara- 
tive linguistics. Nevertheless this language of facial expression 
and gesture, although it has a certain generally accepted tradi- 
tion, lacks the severe rules that govern grammar and by the 
grace of our academies are compulsory for us all. No school 
prescribes that you must express your cheerfulness by this 
sort of smile and your bad humour with that sort of wrinkled 
brow. There are no punishable errors in this or that facial 
expression, although children doubtless do observe and imitate 
such conventional grimaces and gestures. On the other hand, 
these are more immediately induced by inner impulses than 
are words. Yet it will probably be the art of the film after all 
which may bring together the peoples and nations, make them 
accustomed to each other, and lead them to mutual under- 
standing. The silent film is free of the isolating walls of lan- 
guage differences. If we look at and understand each other's 
faces and gestures, we not only understand, we also learn to 
feel each other's emotions. The gesture is not only the outward 
projection of emotion, it is also its initiator. 

The universality of the film is primarily due to economic 
causes — which are always the most compelling causes. The 
making of a film is so expensive that only very few nations 
have a home market sufficient to make film production pay. 
But one of the preconditions of the international popularity 


of any film is the universal comprehensibility of facial expres- 
sion and gesture. Specific national characteristics will in time 
be permissible only as exotic curiosities and a certain levelling 
of 'gesturology* will be inevitable. The laws of the film market 
permit only universally comprehensible facial expressions and 
gestures, every nuance of which is understood by princess and 
working girl alike from San Francisco to Smyrna. We now 
already have a situation in which the film speaks the only 
universal, common world language understood by all. Ethnic 
peculiarities, national specialities sometimes can lend style 
and colour to a film, but can never become factors in causing 
the story to move on, because the gestures which convey the 
meaning and decide the course of the action must be uni- 
formly comprehensible to every audience everywhere, other- 
wise the producer will lose money on the film. 

The silent film helped people to become physically accus- 
tomed to each other and was about to create an international 
human type. When once a common cause will have united men 
within the limits of their own race and nation, then the film 
which makes visible man equally visible to everyone, will 
greatly aid in levelling physical differences between the various 
races and nations and will thus be one of the most useful 
pioneers in the development towards an international univer- 
sal humanity. 



What we see on the screen is a photograph; that is, it 
was not created on the screen as a painting is created on the 
canvas but was already previously existent and visible in 
reality. It had to be enacted in front of the camera, otherwise 
it could not have been photographed. Thus the actual artistic 
creation, the original creative act is performed in the studio 
or on location; at all events before the camera in space and 
before the shooting in time. Then and there the actors acted 
and the technicians did their jobs. Everything had first to be 
reality before it could become a picture. Hence the film we see 
on the screen is merely a photographic reproduction, or to be 
exact, the reproduction of a histrionic performance. 

Or do we see things in the film, on the screen, which we 
could not have seen in the studio even if we had been present 
when the film was made? What are the effects which are born 
only on the celluloid, are born only in the act of projecting 
the film on to the screen? What is it that the film does not re- 
produce but produce, and through which it becomes an inde- 
pendent, basically new art after all? 

We have already said it: the changing distance, the detail 
taken out of the whole, the close-up, the changing angle, the 
cutting, and what is the most important : a new psychological 
effect achieved by the film through the devices just mentioned. 
This new psychological effect is identification. 

Even if I am present at every shot, if I look on as every 
scene is enacted in the studio, I can never see or feel the pic- 
torial effects which are the results of camera distances and 
angles, nor can I become aware of the rhythm which is their 
outcome. For in the studio I see each scene and each figure as 
a whole and am unable to single out details with my eye. 

In reality we can never see the face of things in the micro- 



scopic detail of a close-up, even if we stand beside the camera 
when the shot is made. The cut-out of the close-up is a func- 
tion akin to the composition in a painting. What is left out 
and what is included have a significance of their own and this 
significance is provided only by the camera and transmitted to 
us only by the picture projected on the screen. 

The angle is what gives all things their shape and the same 
thing taken from different angles often gives a completely dis- 
similar picture. This is the strongest means of characterization 
the film possesses; and it is not reproduction but genuine pro- 
duction. The cameraman's vision, his artistic creative work, 
the expression of his personality, can be seen only in the screen 

Finally there is the cutting, the ultimate integrating work 
on the film, which is quite apart from the shooting of the pic- 
ture and which creates the rhythm and that process of associa- 
tion of ideas which again cannot be reproduction, if for no 
other reason, because there is no original to reproduce in this 
phase of film creation, not even as much as the painter has in 
his model. Montage, the mobile architecture of the film's 
picture-material, is a specific, new creative art. 

Such are the basically novel elements of film art. These are 
the things which the invention in France of the cinemato- 
graphic camera did not automatically produce, but which were 
evolved in Hollywood decades later. 


Some people think that the new means of expression pro- 
vided by the camera are due only to its mobility, which not 
only shows us new things all the time but does so from inces- 
santly changing angles and distances and that this constitutes 
the historical novelty of the film. 

True, the film camera has revealed now worlds until then 
concealed from us : such as the soul of objects, the rhythm of 
crowds, the secret language of dumb things. 

But all this provided only new knowledge, new themes, new 
subjects, new material. A more important, more decisive, more 
historical novelty was that the film showed not other things, 


but the same things shown in a different way — that in the film 
the permanent distance from the work fades out of the con- 
sciousness of the spectator and with it that inner distance as 
well, which hitherto was a part of the experience of art. 


In the cinema the camera carries the spectator into the film 
picture itself. We are seeing everything from the inside as it 
were and are surrounded by the characters of the film. They 
need not tell us what they feel, for we see what they see and 
see it as they see it. 

Although we sit in our seats for which we have paid, we do 
not see Romeo and Juliet from there. We look up to Juliet's 
balcony with Romeo's eyes and look down on Romeo with 
Juliet's. Our eye and with it our consciousness is identified 
with the characters in the film, we look at the world out of 
their eyes and have no angle of vision of our own. We walk 
amid crowds, ride, fly or fall with the hero and if one charac- 
ter looks into the other's eyes, he looks into our eyes from the 
screen, for, our eyes are in the camera and become identical 
with the gaze of the characters. They see with our eyes. Herein 
lies the psychological act of 'identification'. 

Nothing like this 'identification' has ever occurred as the 
effect of any other system of art and it is here that the film 
manifests its absolute artistic novelty. 


The film camera went to America from Europe. Why did 
film art nevertheless come from America to Europe? Why did 
Hollywood rather than Paris first hit on the new and specific 
forms of expression of the new art? This was the first time in 
history that Europe learnt an art from America. 

The reason is that the film is the only art born in the epoch 
of capitalism. The roots of all the others reach far back into 
the past and they all to a greater or lesser degree bear the 
stamp of older ideologies. To this must be added the traditions 
of bourgeois aesthetics and a philosophy of art which preached 


the absolute authority of pre-capitalist, chiefly ancient art and 
of its 'eternal laws'. The bourgeoisie made antique art, born 
of other societies and ideologies, the absolute standard and 
the sole norm of all art. Every academy, every official body 
concerned with art accepted this attitude. Such an attitude to 
art made civilized Europe unfavourable ground for the sudden 
leap into the completely new twentieth-century art which the 
traditionless and unbiassed Americans could lightly accept. 

In the shadow of the conservative French Academie, in the 
neighbourhood of the treasures piled up in the Louvre, near 
the ancient Comedie Francaise where the Alexandrines of Cor- 
neille and Racine were still spoken as they had been two hun- 
dred years ago, such an innovation would have been im- 
measurably more difficult than in the brand-new cultural 
vacuum of Hollywood. The ideology of the American people 
was not fettered by old aesthetic and cultural traditions. But 
let us see how the traditional European attitude to art differs 
from the American. 


A basic principle of European aesthetics and art philosophy 
from the ancient Greeks to our own time has been that there 
is an external and internal distance and dualism between spec- 
tator and work of art. This principle implies that every work of 
art by force of its self-contained composition, is a microcosm 
with laws of its own. It may depict reality but has no imme- 
diate connection and contact with it. The work of art is 
separated from the surrounding empiric world not only by the 
frame of the picture, the pedestal of the statue, the footlights 
of the stage. The work of art, by force of its intrinsic nature, 
as a result of its self-contained composition and own specific 
laws is separated from natural reality and precisely because 
it depicts the latter, cannot be its continuation. Even if I hold 
a painting in my hand, I cannot penetrate into the painted 
space of the picture. I am not only physically incapable of 
this, but my consciousness cannot do it either. It should be 
said here, however, that this feeling of insuperable distance 
was not always and everywhere present in all nations. For in- 



stance the Chinese of old regarded their art with a different 
eye and their attitude found expression in tales such as this : 

There was once a painter who one day painted a landscape. 
It was a beautiful valley with wonderful trees and with a wind- 
ing path leading away towards the mountains. The artist was 
so delighted with his picture that he felt an irresistible urge 
to walk along that path winding away towards the distant 
mountains. He entered the picture and followed the path 
towards the mountains and was never seen again by any man. 

Another story tells of a young man who saw a beautiful 
picture of lovely maidens disporting themselves in a meadow 
full of flowers. One of the maidens caught his eye and he fell 
in love with her. He entered the picture and took the maiden 
for his wife. A year later a little child appeared in the picture. 

Such tales could never have been born in the minds of men 
brought up in European ideas of art. The European spectator 
feels the internal space of a picture as inaccessible, guarded 
by its own self-sufficient composition. 

But such strange stories as those Chinese tales could easily 
have been born in the brain of a Hollywood American. For 
the new forms of film art born in Hollywood show that in 
that part of the world, as in old China, the spectator does not 
regard the inner world of a picture as distant and inaccessible. 
Hollywood invented an art which disregards the principle of 
self-contained composition and not only does away with the 
distance between the spectator and the work of art but deli- 
berately creates the illusion in the spectator that he is in the 
middle of the action reproduced in the fictional space of the 


It would be contrary to all experience and probability and 
would require a special explanation, if such a tradition-break- 
ing new art had not been born out of progressive ideologies. 
It is by no means an accident that the initiator of the revolu- 
tion in cinematography, the genius David Griffith, made films 
which were not only new in their form but radically democratic 
and progressive in their content. His great four-part serial 


Intolerance, made at the time of the first world war, was the 
most courageous pacifist manifestation of the time and turning 
against imperialist chauvinism he depicted the methods of big 
business in this way : 

An American manufacturer's business is doing badly. He 
needs some sort of publicity to build it up. So the manufac- 
turer gives money to his sister to build orphanages. There is 
no particular need for orphanages but charity always provides 
good publicity. The orphanages cost a great deal of money 
and as there are no orphans about, stand empty. The money 
for the orphanages has to come from the manufacturer's fac- 
tories, so he reduces wages. The workers go on strike against 
the wage-cut. The manufacturer brings in blacklegs. The 
strikers stop the blacklegs from entering the factory. The 
manufacturer's factory police fire on the strikers. A number 
of them are killed. The factory is working again and the 
orphanages now have plenty of orphans. Everything is fine. 
Happy ending. 

This film was made in 1916, an epic of bourgeois cinemato- 

Charlie Chaplin, who himself belongs to the first great 
generation that created the art of the film, always depicted 
poor and persecuted human beings. Of course Charlie's im- 
mortal figure is not the revolutionary image of the exploited 
factory worker or agricultural labourer, but that of a 'Lumpen- 
proletarian' who defends himself with charming cunning 
against the heartlessness of the rich and revenges himself by 
petty means. Nevertheless, taken as a whole, the first great 
Hollywood generation which created the new form-language 
of the film was progressive and democratic in its ideology and 
in the spirit and content of its films. It is out of this spirit 
that the first and only bourgeois art was born. 



As we have already said, the basis of the new form- 
language is the moving cinematographic camera with its con- 
stantly changing viewpoint. The distance from the object and 
with it the size and number of objects in the frame, the angle 
and the perspective all change incessantly. This movement 
breaks up the object before the camera into sectional pictures, 
or 'shots', irrespective of whether that object is moving or 
motionless. Sectional pictures are not details of a whole film. 
For what is being done is not to break up into its constituent 
parts a picture already taken or already envisaged. The result 
of this would be detail; in this case one would have to show 
every group and every individual in a crowd scene from the 
same angle as the one from which they are seen in the total 
picture; none of the people or things could move — if they did, 
they would no longer be details of the same total What is 
done is not to break up into detail an already existent, already 
formed total picture, but to show a living, moving scene or 
landscape as a synthesis of sectional pictures, which merge 
in our consciousness into a total scene although they are not 
the parts of an existent immutable mosaic and could never 
be made into a total single picture. 


The answer to this question is : the montage or cutting, the 
mobile composition of the film, an architecture in time, not 
space, of which much more is to be said later. For the time 
being we are interested in the psychological question of why 
a scene broken up into sectional pictures does not fall apart 
but remains a coherent whole, remains in the consciousness 



of the spectator a consistent unity in both space and time. 
How do we know that things are happening simultaneously 
and in the same place, even though the pictures pass before 
our eyes in temporal sequence and show a real passing of 

This unity and the simultaneity of pictures proceeding in 
time is not produced automatically. The spectator must con- 
tribute an association of ideas, a synthesis of consciousness and 
imagination to which the film-going public had first to be 
educated. This is that visual culture of which we have spoken 
in previous chapters. 

But the sectional picture (or 'shot') must be correctly ordered 
and composed. There may be shots which slip out of the whole 
and in respect of which we no longer feel that we are in the 
same place and see the same scene as in the preceding shots. 
This is a matter for the director who can, if he chooses, make 
the spectator feel the continuity of the scene, its unity in time 
and space even if he has never once shown him a total picture 
of the whole scene for his orientation. 

This is done by including in every shot a movement, a ges- 
ture, a form, a something which refers the eye to the preceding 
and following shots, something that protrudes into the next shot 
like the branch of a tree or a fence, like a ball that rolls from 
one frame to the other, a bird that flies across, cigar smoke 
that curls in both, a look or gesture to which there is an answer 
in the next shot. But the director must be on his guard not to 
change the angle together with the direction of movement — 
if he does, the change in the picture is so great as to break its 
unity. The sound film has simplified this job of remaining in 
step. For sound can always be heard in the whole space, in 
each shot. If a scene is enacted, say, in a night club, and we 
hear the same music we will know that we are in the same 
night club even if in the shot itself we see nothing but a hand 
holding a flower or something of the sort. But if we suddenly 
hear different sounds in this same shot of a hand we will 
assume, even if we don't see it, that the hand holding the 
flower is now in a quite different place. For instance, to con- 
tinue the picture of the hand holding the rose — if instead of 
dance music we now hear the twittering of birds, we will not 


be surprised if, when the picture widens into a long shot, we 
see a garden and the owner of the hand picking roses. This 
sort of change-over offers opportunities for good effects. 


This totally different nature of sound has a considerable in- 
fluence on the composition, montage and dramaturgy of the 
sound film. The sound camera cannot break up sound into 
sections or shots as the cinematographic camera can break up 
objects. In space, sound is always heard indi visibly and homo- 
geneously; that is, it has the same character in one part of 
space as in any other; it can only be louder or softer, closer or 
more distant and mixed with other sounds in differing ways. 
In the night club, for instance, we may first hear only dance 
music and then the loud talking and laughter of a noisy com- 
pany at one of the tables may almost drown it. 


All sound has an identifiable place in space. By its pitch 
we can tell whether it is in a room, or a cellar, in a large hall 
or in the open air. This possibility of placing sound also helps 
to hold together shots the action of which takes place in the 
same space. The sound film has educated our ear — or might 
and should have educated it — to recognize the pitch (timbre) 
of sound. But we have made less progress in our aural than in 
our visual education. In any case, the sound film which could 
use sound as its artistic material in a similar way as the silent 
film had used the visual impression, was soon superseded by 
the talkie, which was in a sense a step backwards towards the 
photographed theatre. 


The first new world discovered by the film camera in the 
days of the silent film was the world of very small things visible 
only from very short distances, the hidden life of little things. 
By this the camera showed us not only hitherto unknown 


objects and events : the adventures of beetles in a wilderness of 
blades of grass, the tragedies of day-old chicks in a corner 
of the poultry-run, the erotic battles of flowers and the poetry 
of miniature landscapes. It brought us not only new themes. 
By means of the close-up the camera in the days of the silent 
film revealed also the hidden mainsprings of a life which we 
had thought we already knew so well. Blurred outlines are 
mostly the result of our insensitive short-sightedness and super- 
ficiality. We skim over the teeming substance of life. The 
camera has uncovered that cell-life of the vital issues in which 
all great events are ultimately conceived; for the greatest land- 
slide is only the aggregate of the movements of single particles. 
A multitude of close-ups can show us the very instant in which 
the general is transformed into the particular. The close-up 
has not only widened our vision of life, it has also deepened 
it. In the days of the silent film it not only revealed new things, 
but showed us the meaning of the old. 


The close-up can show us a quality in a gesture of the hand 
we never noticed before when we saw that hand stroke or 
strike something, a quality which is often more expressive than 
any play of the features. The close-up shows your shadow on 
the wall with which you have lived all your life and which you 
scarcely knew; it shows the speechless face and fate of the 
dumb objects that live with you in your room and whose fate 
is bound up with your own. Before this you looked at your life 
as a concert-goer ignorant of music listens to an orchestra 
playing a symphony. All he hears is the leading melody, all 
the rest is blurred into a general murmur. Only those can 
really understand and enjoy the music who can hear the con- 
trapuntal architecture of each part in the score. This is how we 
see life : only its leading melody meets the eye. But a good film 
with its close-ups reveals the most hidden parts in our poly- 
phonous life, and teaches us to see the intricate visual details 
of life as one reads an orchestral score. 



The close-up may sometimes give the impression of a mere 
naturalist preoccupation with detail. But good close-ups 
radiate a tender human attitude in the contemplation of hidden 
things, a delicate solicitude, a gentle bending over the intima- 
cies of life-in-the-miniature, a warm sensibility. Good close-ups 
are lyrical; it is the heart, not the eye, that has perceived them. 

Close-ups are often dramatic revelations of what is really 
happening under the surface of appearances. You may see a 
medium shot of someone sitting and conducting a conversation 
with icy calm. The close-up will show trembling fingers ner- 
vously fumbling a small object — sign of an internal storm. 
Among pictures of a comfortable house breathing a sunny 
security, we suddenly see the evil grin of a vicious head on the 
carved mantelpiece or the menacing grimace of a door opening 
into darkness. Like the leitmotif of impending fate in an opera, 
the shadow of some impending disaster falls across the cheerful 

Close-ups are the pictures expressing the poetic sensibility 
of the director. They show the faces of things and those ex- 
pressions on them which are significant because they are re- 
flected expressions of our own subconscious feeling. Herein 
lies the art of the true cameraman. 

In a very old American film I saw this dramatic scene: 
the bride at the altar suddenly runs away from the bridegroom 
whom she detests, who is rich and who has been forced on 
her. As she rushes away she must pass through a large room 
full of wedding presents. Beautiful things, good things, useful 
things, things radiating plenty and security smile at her and 
lean towards her with expressive faces. And there are the 
presents given by the bridegroom: faces of things radiating 
touching attention, consideration, tenderness, love — and they 
all seem to be looking at the fleeing bride, because she looks 
at them; all seem to stretch out hands towards her, because 
she feels they do so. There are ever more of them — they crowd 
the room and block her path — her flight slows down more and 
more, then she stops and finally turns back. 


The Thirteen 

This is the title of a film by Romm. The significant dramatic 
life the close-up gives to things is not an artistic monopoly to 
the silent film. Michael Romm used it in his film The Thirteen 
when the sound film was already fully developed. Desert 
marauders have surrounded a little group of soldiers. One man 
on horseback is sent out to bring help. We alternately see the 
life-and-death struggle of the twelve left behind — a struggle 
that cannot last long — and the long and dangerous ride of the 
solitary horseman across the sands of the desert. On him 
depends the life of the other twelve and therefore his struggle 
and his fate interest us more than the others, whose battle 
from behind a parapet of sand offers little variety to the eye. 
The enemy against whom the solitary rider matches his 
strength is the length of the road. How is the director to show 
this? By showing the rider riding and riding again? The spec- 
tator would tire of this even sooner than the rider himself. And 
so Romm doesn't show us the rider at all, only his trail in the 
sand. It tells us more than any riding, or even the rider's face, 
ever could. For this trail shows what is the most terrible — the 
awful length of the road. We see a great panorama of the 
boundless desert and on its smooth surface a single solitary 
forlorn line of footprints lost in the immensity of space stretch- 
ing endlessly to a distant horizon. How much time and footage 
would the director have required to produce by means of 
riding scenes the effect he achieved by a single panoramic 

Then the close-ups of the trail mark the beginning of an 
exciting drama. For the trail changes its shape, it takes on a 
physiognomy — it shows us the fatigue and then exhaustion of 
the increasingly uncertain feet and our imagination is stimu- 
lated by the fact that we cannot see, but merely deduce or 
guess the condition of the man by the state of the trail. Then 
far away on the horizon we see something lying prostrate on 
the ground and we do not know at first whether it is man or 
horse. The suspense is exciting. But presently we see human 
footprints in the desert sand. That we have not seen a close-up 
of the dead horse brings home the significance of the close-up 


more than anything else. For at bottom the spectator is afraid; 
he does not really want to see what is lying there and thereby 
conjures up more intensely than ever the close-up lurking in 
his own imagination ! 

Afterwards we see only the trail of the man on foot, sinking 
into the sand up to the knees. One can see that he is staggering 
— his footprints are a zig-zag — then the erratic trail sinks 
below the remote horizon — and the goal is still far away. 

Then we see a rifle lying in the sand. A close-up shows the 
precious weapon — no man would throw such a thing away 
while he could still muster the strength to carry it. Then a sabre 
is lying on the ground . . . Close-ups show how the man 
gradually jettisons his equipment, show his efforts, his suffer- 
ing, his unbending will, his stubborn struggle forward. He him- 
self has not been shown us even once, but the picture our 
imagination paints of him is all the more harrowing. We see 
the tragic ballad of that endless road and every new sign, every 
new object is a new verse in it. 

If the director had shown us the man himself, how often 
would he have had to show us practically the same picture 
over and over again? The human face, if it registers nothing 
but effort and exhaustion all the time, could not contain so 
much variety as that trail. Only at the end of the road do we 
see the man himself at the climax of his dramatic struggle. We 
see him still crawling forward on all fours, then we see him 
sink down and swoon. Now the man's facial expression also 
finds its mark, in our hearts, because the director did not use 
up this effect too soon. Here is a classical example of how the 
close-up should be used. 

On the stage the living, speaking human being has a far 
greater significance than dumb objects. They are not on the 
same plane and their intensity is different. In the silent film 
both man and object were equally pictures, photographs, their 
homogeneous material was projected on to the same screen, in 
the same way as in a painting, where they are equally patches 
of colour and equally parts in the same composition. In sig- 
nificance, intensity and value men and things were thus 
brought on to the same plane. 

Even in the talkie the speaking human being is still only a 


picture, a photograph. The word does not lift him out of the 
community of the common material. For this reason even the 
sound film still offers the possibility of a consistent style; for 
instance a scurrilously grotesque evil-faced personage may, 
like some hidden family trait, take on a resemblance to the 
scurrilously grotesque malevolence of the character. Or else 
objects surrounding a charming, smiling girl can all be smiling 
and graceful. 

Having discovered the soul of things in the close-up, the 
silent film undeniably overrated their importance and some- 
times succumbed to the temptation of showing 'the hidden 
little life' as an end in itself, divorced from human destinies; 
it strayed away from the dramatic plot and presented the 
'poetry of things' instead of human beings. But what Lessing 
said in his Laokoon about Homer — that he never depicted 
anything but human actions and always described objects only 
inasmuch as they took part in that action — should to this day 
serve as a model for all epic and dramatic art as long as it 
centres around the presentation of man. 



The basis and possibility of an art of the film is that everyone 
and everything looks what it is 

Every art always deals with human beings, it is a 
human manifestation and presents human beings. To para- 
phrase Marx : The root of all art is man'. When the film close- 
up strips the veil of our imperceptiveness and insensitivity from 
the hidden little things and shows us the face of objects, it still 
shows us man, for what makes objects expressive are the 
human expressions projected on to them. The objects only re- 
flect our own selves, and this is what distinguished art from 
scientific knowledge (although even the latter is to a great 
extent subjectively determined). When we see the face of 
things, we do what the ancients did in creating gods in man's 
image and breathing a human soul into them. The close-ups 
of the film are the creative instruments of this mighty visual 

What was more important, however, than the discovery of 
the physiognomy of things, was the discovery of the human 
face. Facial expression is the most subjective manifestation of 
man, more subjective even than speech, for vocabulary and 
grammar are subject to more or less universally valid rules 
and conventions, while the play of features, as has already been 
said, is a manifestation not governed by objective canons, even 
though it is largely a matter of imitation. This most subjective 
and individual of human manifestations is rendered objective 
in the close-up. 


If the close-up lifts some object or some part of an object 
out of its surroundings, we nevertheless perceive it as existing 
in space; we do not for an instant forget that the hand, say, 



which is shown by the close-up, belongs to some human being. 
It is precisely this connection which lends meaning to its every 
movement. But when Griffith's genius and daring first pro- 
jected gigantic 'severed heads' on to the cinema screen, he not 
only brought the human face closer to us in space, he also 
transposed it from space into another dimension. We do not 
mean, of course, the cinema screen and the patches of light 
and shadow moving across it, which being visible things, can 
be conceived only in space; we mean the expression on the 
face as revealed by the close-up. We have said that the isolated 
hand would lose its meaning, its expression, if we did not know 
and imagine its connection with some human being. The facial 
expression on a face is complete and comprehensible in itself 
and therefore we need not think of it as existing in space and 
time. Even if we had just seen the same face in the middle of 
a crowd and the close-up merely separated it from the others, 
we would still feel that we have suddenly been left alone with 
this one face to the exclusion of the rest of the world. Even if 
we have just seen the owner of the face in a long shot, when 
we look into the eyes in a close-up, we no longer think of that 
wide space, because the expression and significance of the 
face has no relation to space and no connection with it. Facing 
an isolated face takes us out of space, our consciousness of 
space is cut out and we find ourselves in another dimension : 
that of physiognomy. The fact that the features of the face 
can be seen side by side, i.e. in space — that the eyes are at the 
top, the ears at the sides and the mouth lower down — loses all 
reference to space when we see, not a figure of flesh and bone, 
but an expression or in other words when we see emotions, 
moods, intentions and thoughts, things which although our 
eyes can see them, are not in space. For feelings, emotions, 
moods, intentions, thoughts are not themselves things pertain- 
ing to space, even if they are rendered visible by means which 


We will be helped in understanding this peculiar dimension 
by Henri Bergson's analysis of time and duration. A melody, 


said Bergson, is composed of single notes which follow each 
other in sequence, i.e. in time. Nevertheless a melody has no 
dimension in time, because the first note is made an element 
of the melody only because it refers to the next note and be- 
cause it stands in a definite relation to all other notes down to 
the last. Hence the last note, which may not be played for 
some time, is yet already present in the first note as a melody- 
creating element. And the last note completes the melody only 
because we hear the first note along with it. The notes sound 
one after the other in a time-sequence, hence they have a real 
duration, but the coherent line of melody has no dimension in 
time; the relation of the notes to each other is not a pheno- 
menon occurring in time. The melody is not born gradually 
in the course of time but is already in existence as a complete 
entity as soon as the first note is played. How else would we 
know that a melody is begun? The single notes have duration 
in time, but their relation to each other, which gives meaning 
to the individual sounds, is outside time. A logical deduction 
also has its sequence, but premise and conclusion do not fol- 
low one another in time. The process of thinking as a psycho- 
logical process may have duration; but the logical forms, like 
melodies, do not belong to the dimension of time. 

Now facial expression, physiognomy, has a relation to space 
similar to the relation of melody to time. The single features, 
of course, appear in space; but the significance of their rela- 
tion to one another is not a phenomenon pertaining to space, 
no more than are the emotions, thoughts and ideas which are 
manifested in the facial expressions we see. They are picture- 
like and yet they seem outside space; such is the psychological 
effect of facial expression. 


The modern stage no longer uses the spoken soliloquy, al- 
though without it the characters are silenced just when they 
are the most sincere, the least hampered by convention : when 
they are alone. The public of to-day will not tolerate the spoken 
soliloquy, allegedly because it is 'unnatural'. Now the film has 
brought us the silent soliloquy, in which a face can speak with 


the subtlest shades of meaning without appearing unnatural 
and arousing the distaste of the spectators. In this silent mono- 
logue the solitary human soul can find a tongue more candid 
and uninhibited than in any spoken soliloquy, for it speaks 
instinctively, subconsciously. The language of the face cannot 
be suppressed or controlled. However disciplined and prac- 
tisedly hypocritical a face may be, in the enlarging close-up 
we see even that it is concealing something, that it is looking 
a lie. For such things have their own specific expressions super- 
posed on the feigned one. It is much easier to lie in words than 
with the face and the film has proved it beyond doubt. 

In the film the mute soliloquy of the face speaks even when 
the hero is not alone, and herein lies a new great opportunity 
for depicting man. The poetic significance of the soliloquy is 
that it is a manifestation of mental, not physical, loneliness. 
Nevertheless, on the stage a character can speak a monologue 
only when there is no one else there, even though a character 
might feel a thousand times more lonely if alone among a 
large crowd. The monologue of loneliness may raise its voice 
within him a hundred times even while he is audibly talking 
to someone. Hence the most deep-felt human soliloquies could 
not find expression on the stage. Only the film can offer the 
possibility of such expression, for the close-up can lift a charac- 
ter out of the heart of the greatest crowd and show how soli- 
tary it is in reality and what it feels in this crowded solitude. 

The film, especially the sound film, can separate the words 
of a character talking to others from the mute play of features 
by means of which, in the middle of such a conversation we 
are made to overhear a mute soliloquy and realize the differ- 
ence between this soliloquy and the audible conversation. 
What a flesh-and-blood actor can show on the real stage is at 
most that his words are insincere and it is a mere convention 
that the partner in such a conversation is blind to what every 
spectator can see. But in the isolated close-up of the film we 
can see to the bottom of a soul by means of such tiny move- 
ments of facial muscles which even the most observant partner 
would never perceive. 

A novelist can, of course, write a dialogue so as to weave 
into it what the speakers think to themselves while they are 


talking. But by so doing he splits up the sometimes comic, 
sometimes tragic, but always awe-inspiring, unity between 
spoken word and hidden thought with which this contradiction 
is rendered manifest in the human face and which the film 
was the first to show us in all its dazzling variety. 

'polyphonic' play of features 

The film first made possible what, for lack of a better des- 
cription, I call the 'polyphonic' play of features. By it I mean 
the appearance on the same face of contradictory expressions. 
In a sort of physiognomic chord a variety of feelings, passions 
and thoughts are synthesized in the play of the features as an 
adequate expression of the multiplicity of the human soul. 
* Asta Nielsen once played a woman hired to seduce a rich 
young man. The man who hired her is watching the results 
from behind a curtain. Knowing that she is under observation, 
Asta Nielsen feigns love. She does it convincingly : the whole 
gamut of appropriate emotion is displayed in her face. Never- 
theless we are aware that it is only play-acting, that it is a 
sham, a mask. But in the course of the scene Asta Nielsen 
really falls in love with the young man. Her facial expression 
shows little change; she had been 'registering' love all the time 
and done it well. How else could she now show that this time 
she was really in love? Her expression changes only by a 
scarcely perceptible and yet immediately obvious nuance — 
and what a few minutes before was a sham is now the sincere 
expression of a, deep emotion. Then Asta Nielsen suddenly 
remembers that she is under observation. The man behind the 
curtain must not be allowed to read her face and learn that 
she is now no longer feigning, but really feeling love. So Asta 
now pretends to be pretending. Her face shows a new, by this 
time threefold, change. First she feigns love, then she genuinely 
shows love, and as she is not permitted to be in love in good 
earnest, her face again registers a sham, a pretence of love. 
But now it is this pretence that is a lie. Now she is lying that 
she is lying. And we can see all this clearly in her face, over 
which she has drawn two different masks. At such times an 
invisible face appears in front of the real one, just as spoken 


words can by association of ideas conjure up things unspoken 
and unseen, perceived only by those to whom they are 

In the early days of the silent film Griffith showed a scene of 
this character. The hero of the film is a Chinese merchant. 
Lilian Gish, playing a beggar-girl who is being pursued by 
enemies, collapses at his door. The Chinese merchant finds 
her, carries her into his house and looks after the sick girl. The 
girl slowly recovers, but her face remains stone-like in its 
sorrow. 'Can't you smile?' the Chinese asks the frightened 
child who is only just beginning to trust him. 'I'll try,' says 
Lilian Gish, picks up a mirror and goes through the motions 
of a smile, aiding her face muscles with her fingers. The result 
is a painful, even horrible mask which the girl now turns to- 
wards the Chinese merchant. But his kindly friendly eyes bring 
a real smile to her face. The face itself does not change; but 
a warm emotion lights it up from inside and an intangible 
nuance turns the grimace into a real expression. 

In the days of the silent film such a close-up provided an 
entire scene. A good idea of the director and a fine perform- 
ance on the part of the actor gave as a result an interesting, 
moving, new experience for the audience. 


In the silent film facial expression, isolated from its sur- 
roundings, seemed to penetrate to a strange new dimension of 
the soul. It revealed to us a new world — the world of micro- 
physiognomy which could not otherwise be seen with the 
naked eye or in everyday life. In the sound film the part played 
by this 'microphysiognomy' has greatly diminished because it 
is now apparently possible to express in words much of what 
facial expression apparently showed. But it is never the same 
— many profound emotional experiences can never be ex- 
pressed in words at all. 

Not even the greatest writer, the most consummate artist of 
the pen could tell in words what Asta Nielsen tells with her 
face in close-up as she sits down to her mirror and tries to 
make up for the last time her aged, wrinkled face, raddled with 



poverty, misery, disease and prostitution, when she is expect- 
ing her lover, released after ten years in jail; a lover who has 
retained his youth in captivity because life could not touch 
him there. 


She looks into the mirror, her face pale and deadly earnest. 
It expresses anxiety and unspeakable horror. She is like a 
general who, hopelessly encircled with his whole army, bends 
once more, for the last time, over his maps to search for a 
way out and finds there is no escape. Then she begins to work 
feverishly, attacking that disgustingly raddled face with a 
trembling hand. She holds her lipstick as Michelangelo might 
have held his chisel on the last night of his life. It is a life- 
and-death struggle. The spectator watches with bated breath 
as this woman paints her face in front of her mirror. The 
mirror is cracked and dull, and from it the last convulsions of 
a tortured soul look out on you. She tries to save her life with 
a little rouge ! No good ! She wipes it off with a dirty rag. She 
tries again. And again. Then she shrugs her shoulders and 
wipes it all off with a movement which clearly shows that she 
has now wiped off her life. She throws the rag away. A close- 
up shows the dirty rag falling on the floor and after it has 
fallen, sinking down a little more. This movement of the rag 
is also quite easy to understand — it is the last convulsion of 
a death agony. 

In this close-up 'microphysiognomy' showed a deeply mov- 
ing human tragedy with the greatest economy of expression. It 
was a great new form of art. The sound film offers much fewer 
opportunities for this kind of thing, but by no means excludes 
it and it would be a pity if such opportunities were to be 
neglected, unnecessarily making us all the poorer. 

Baltic Deputy 

In this film there is a fine long monologue without words, in 
a close-up of the old professor's face. Professor Polezhayev has 
joined the Bolsheviks and therefore none of the guests invited 


to his birthday party has come. He is left alone at an empty 
table laid for many guests. The table is a depressing sight and 
the professor's wife weeps. Suddenly the old man turns away 
and goes to his laboratory. There he looks, not at the empty 
festive table, but at a bench laden with retorts, test-tubes and 
other apparatus, cheerfully glittering tools of his life's work, 
his ever-faithful loyal friends. This alone would make a fine 
close-up. But the expression coming to the professor's face is 
an even finer one. Here is sorrowful defiance, a proud faith 
in spite of everything, a great mute vow of fidelity to the 
revolution, all in an unspoken soliloquy. Russian audiences 
broke into spontaneous applause when they saw this scene. 

Not only psychological subtleties or moving emotions can 
be shown in such close-ups, but greater things too, all the 
pathos of human greatness. The simple, immediately convinc- 
ing expression on a human face avoids the danger of over- 
ornate phrases, or rhetoric. (Of course only if the expression 
is convincing. The play of features can also have an insincere 
rhetoric of its own.) I remember Shchukin playing Lenin in 
the film Lenin in October, notably in the scene where he is 
talking to a little child. The warmth of a paternal tenderness 
is still on his face when the news is brought of the assassina- 
tion of his close friend and comrade Uritski. He does not utter 
a word, only turns his face away. He remains silent for a long 
time, but his face is all the more eloquent in a microphysiog- 
nomic close-up. The expression of love and tenderness does 
not fade off his face, but is slowly overlaid by another emotion : 
pain. Then comes the third layer : we see anger hardening into 
inexorable, fear-inspiring hatred. These four emotions are all 
seen together and simultaneously on Shchukin's face like a 
chord of four notes. 

The director let this scene follow immediately on the scene 
with the child, because he wanted to show in this synthesis of 
emotions the true soul of the great revolutionary. He wanted 
to show what was most important: that hardness was only 
the reverse side of tenderness, that the revolutionary could 
hate so fiercely only because he could love so tenderly. 



In the silent film the actor spoke, just as he does in the 
talkie. But in the close-ups of the silent film we saw the actor 
talking and this, too, was expressive play of features. Those 
who can see a speaker as they listen to what he says, see and 
hear something different from those who only hear. 

In the silent film the way in which an actor moved his mouth 
in speaking was also a means of facial expression. That is why 
we all understood the actors of all nationalities so well. We 
understood what was meant when a man hissed his words from 
between clenched teeth, or spat them out like the darting 
tongue of a poisonous snake. This was acting, in the true 
sense of the word. We knew what it meant when a drunk 
pushed out his words with a heavy tongue through slack lips. 
We understood when the hero let the words drop contemp- 
tuously from the corner of his mouth. This was one of the 
most interesting features of the close-up, for there were a 
thousand different ways of speaking when the words were 
only seen, but not heard, by the audience. 


The actor in the silent film spoke in a way intelligible to the 
eyes, not the ears. He could do this precisely because he had 
no need to speak in a manner intelligible to the ear, he had 
no need to shape his mouth for the proper pronunciation of 
sounds, to open his mouth for a broad 'a' or purse it for a 'u\ 
The reason for any movement of the mouth was only to ex- 
press some emotion — it was not a rational gesture conforming 
to the requirements of articulate intelligible speech. This art of 
expression was virtually killed by the talkie, because a mouth 
that speaks intelligibly to the ear, can no longer remain in- 
telligible to the eye. It is no longer a spontaneous vehicle of 
expression, like the other features of the face — it has become 
a sound-producing instrument. 

It is for this reason that the sound film avoids as much as 
possible the showing in close-up of human faces in the act of 
speaking, for at such times a part of the face, to wit the mouth, 


is devoid of expression and because it nevertheless is in active 
movement, it often appears grotesque. This disadvantage 
meant that we had to abandon those close-ups which threw a 
light into the microphysiognomic depths of the human heart, 
at least while a character on the screen was speaking. 

But even so every speaking face on the screen retained an 
expressiveness just sufficient to render unpalatable the syn- 
chronized substitution of another language for the original. 
Not only because every word of the dubbed text had to be 
adapted to the movement of the speaking mouth, often result- 
ing in a ridiculous and unnatural phraseology — there is also 
an inevitable inartistic, sham quality in all synchronization, 
because every language has inseparably pertaining to it a 
play of features characteristic of the people speaking the given 
language. To speak English and accompany the speech with 
Italian gestures is a monstrosity and the audience felt this. 
It is for this reason that dubbing has been abandoned more 
and more in favour of translated titles. 


In one of her old silent films (Vanina or The Wedding under 
the Gallows) Asta Nielsen attempts to deliver her lover from 
prison under sentence of death. She has obtained the keys, she 
is in his cell, the road to freedom is open. But only for a few 
minutes. The lover is lying in numb despair on the straw and 
refuses to budge. Now Asta begins to talk to the prisoner, 
putting all her own energy and determination into her words. 
She speaks rapidly, desperately, with furious ardour. We can- 
not hear what she is saying. No title tells us. There is no need 
for it. The situation speaks for itself. It is obvious that she is 
trying to put heart into him and repeating again and again: 
'Come, there is no time to lose, come or we must both perish ! ' 
This is not the real text of Asta's tremendous, visible exhorta- 
tion — the real text is the fierce struggle between love and fear 
which no words could express. Seeing her as she speaks makes 
a deeper impression than if we saw her tear her hair or claw 
her face in despair. She speaks like this for a long time; and 
so much audible speech would have been quite unbearable. 



Most instructive is the case of Michael Romm and his film 
of Maupassant's Boule de Suif. Romm made this film as a 
silent film although the sound film was already fully developed 
at the time. The silence of this film and everything resulting 
from it was thus no technical necessity, but intentional and 
deliberately accepted style — rather like the etcher's renuncia- 
tion of colour. In this silent film Romm did in fact achieve 
many pictorial and dramatic effects which would have been 
impossible in a sound film. 

The story is well-known, but will bear repetition: a little 
Parisian tart, escaping in a bus from the Prussians with a 
number of other passengers, is demonstratively treated with 
contempt by her fellow-travellers, who, while quite willing to 
eat generously proffered food, keep her at arm's length in all 
other respects. The bus is held up by a Prussian patrol and 
the officer commanding it refuses to allow the fugitives to 
proceed unless the little cocotte spends the night with him. 
Two nuns who form part of the strictly virtuous company are 
the most zealous in trying to persuade the reluctant prostitute 
to comply with the Prussian officer's demands. Under the pelt- 
ing rain of their words the little street-walker bows her head. 
We see the nuns' mouths move with hysterical rapidity. A 
few minutes before, when they were praying in the immobile 
poses of statues, no one would have believed that they were 
capable of such violent passions. The arguments the nuns use 
to persuade the girl are presented to the audience in two short 
titles and their essence is that as she is a whore anyway one 
man more or less would make no difference to her; on the 
other hand she would be acting in a way to please God if she 
slept with the German. Much more convincing and effective 
than their words, however, is their manner of speaking and 
this can be shown only visually. The incessant, irresistible 
cataract of words, their cruel, determined, unbearably violent 
insistence is much more convincingly shown by the visible, 
rapid ceaseless motion of the lips than could ever be con- 
veyed by making audible the same, or slightly varied, argu- 


ments repeated over and over again. The latter would show 
only hypocrisy. The former show a fierce passion as well. The 
loquacity itself is characteristic, but it would have been both 
tiring and boring to listen to it all. In a sound film the stream 
of words could never have rushed on with such rapidity — 
the words would have been unintelligible at such a pace. The 
motions of speech were here far more expressive and con- 
vincing than any spoken words could have been; hence they 
could be shown only in a silent film. 


The characters in the silent film spoke, but their speech 
was only visible, not audible. Only the pantomime has genu- 
inely mute characters and hence this is a basically different 
form of art. Pantomime is mute not only to the ear but to the 
eye. For the pantomime is not only a silent art, it is the art 
of being silent, expressing what rises from the depths of 
silence. The gestures and mimicry of pantomime are not 
an accompaniment to words which have been spoken and 
which we cannot hear, but the expression, by means of ges- 
tures, of the profound experience of music, the music that 
lives in the depths of silence. It is interesting to observe that 
in a film in which we see onlookers watching dancers dancing, 
the motionless public appears more realistic to us than the 
dancers who are in rapid movement. The reason for this is 
that the immobility of the audience is the familiar everyday 
behaviour of all onlookers, while the movements of the dancers 
express a distant, exotic experience outside our workaday 


I must anticipate a little here, as the problem of silence 
will arise again later. The unsolved inner contradictions of 
the sound film are manifested among other things in the fact 
that nearly every director prefers to avoid much speaking and 
wants scripts in which there is as little dialogue as possible. 
This in itself discredits the talkie and shows that it is an un- 


natural form of art — rather as though a painter were to prefer 
painting pictures without colours. 

This problem cannot on any account be solved by making 
the characters speak little or not at all. The silence of panto- 
mime characters is an inherent quality of this art form. But 
in the film it is a quality, a characteristic of the personages, not 
of the art form. If a human being is silent, although he or 
she might speak (either audibly as in the talkie or only visibly, 
as in the silent film) then we attribute this silence to his or her 
character or to the dramatic situation. We cannot use this 
powerful means of characterization just for the purpose of 
avoiding dialogue; the result would be that all the characters 
in our films would be grotesquely surly and taciturn for no 
apparent reason. 


The mute soliloquies of physiognomy, the wordless lyrics of 
facial expression can convey many things for the registering of 
which other arts possess no instruments. Not only can facial 
expression itself tell us things for which we have no words — 
the rhythm and tempo of changes in facial expression can also 
indicate the oscillation of moods which cannot be put into 
words. A single twitch of a facial muscle may express a 
passion for the expression of which a long sentence would be 
needed. By the time the character would get to the end of 
such a sentence, his mood may have changed more than once 
and the words would perhaps no longer be true when he spoke 
them. The most rapid tempo of speech lags behind the flow 
and throb of emotions; but facial expression can always keep 
up with them, providing a faithful and intelligible expression 
for them all. 

There is another Griffith film in which the heroine, (Lilian 
Gish) is a naive, trustful girl who is seduced by an unscrupu- 
lous cynic. The seducer tells her with a sneer that he has 
deceived her. Lilian Gish, the loving, trusting girl cannot 
believe her ears, or rather she is incapable of realizing all at 
once that her life is in ruins. She knows that what the man 
says is true, but would nevertheless like to believe that he is 


joking. For it is impossible that he should be so evil. In this 
helpless, breathless struggle, this alternating between faith and 
despair, Lilian Gish laughs and weeps by turns perhaps a 
dozen times, while she stares at her seducer without saying a 
word. This two-minute dumb-show, which one could see in 
close-up, was one of the great artistic achievements of 'micro- 
physiognomies'. It would in itself suffice to immortalize the 
art of the silent film — the silent film which has since died. 

It is impossible to express such an oscillation of emotions 
in their original rhythm by means of the spoken word. Des- 
cribed in a novel it would take pages, the reading of which 
would require much more time than the described scene itself. 
Here again we find an emotional reality which can be shown 
adequately by the film alone. But not only by the silent film. 
There is no technical obstacle to such scenes in a sound film. 
But the sound films of to-day seem to have torn the strings 
from their own instruments. In their primitive banality they 
do not know and do not wish to know the possibilities of their 
own medium and squander the rich heritage of the silent 


In the last years of the silent film the human face had grown 
more and more visible, that is, more and more expressive. 
Not only had 'microphysiognomy' developed but together with 
it the faculty of understanding its meaning. In the last years 
of the silent film we saw not only masterpieces of silent mono- 
logue but of mute dialogue as well. We saw conversations be- 
tween the facial expressions of two human beings who under- 
stood the movements of each others' faces better than each 
others' words and could perceive shades of meaning too subtle 
to be conveyed in words. 

A necessary result of this was — as I will show in detailed 
analysis later in connection with the dramaturgy of the film — 
that the more space and time in the film was taken up by the 
inner drama revealed in the 'microphysiognomic' close-up, 
the less was left of the predetermined 8,000 feet of film for 
all the external happenings. The silent film could thus dive 


into the depths — it was given the possibility of presenting a 
passionate life-and-death struggle almost exclusively by close- 
ups of faces. 

Dreyer's film Jeanne d'Arc provided a convincing example 
of this in the powerful, lengthy, moving scene of the Maid's 
examination. Fifty men are sitting in the same place all the 
time in this scene. Several hundred feet of film show nothing 
but big close-ups of heads, of faces. We move in the spiritual 
dimension of facial expression alone. We neither see nor feel 
the space in which the scene is in reality enacted. Here no 
riders gallop, no boxers exchange blows. Fierce passions, 
thoughts, emotions, convictions battle here, but their struggle 
is not in space. Nevertheless this series of duels between looks 
and frowns, duels in which eyes clash instead of swords, can 
hold the attention of an audience for ninety minutes without 
flagging. We can follow every attack and riposte of these duels 
on the faces of the combatants; the play of their features 
indicates every stratagem, every sudden onslaught. The silent 
film has here brought an attempt to present a drama of the 
spirit closer to realization than any stage play has ever been 
able to do. 


Everything I have said until now about facial expression 
and play of features referred to the whole face. This sort of 
facial expression is more or less under control — a man may, if 
he wishes, prevent his feelings from showing in his face — he 
may even feign other emotions, dissemble, tell a lie with his 
facial expression. 

But the camera can get so close to the face that it can 
show 'microphysiognomic' details even of this detail of the 
body and then we find that there are certain regions of the 
face which are scarcely or not at all under voluntary control 
and the expression of which is neither deliberate nor conscious 
and may often betray emotions that contradict the general 
expression appearing on the rest of the face. 

This has a great artistic value and significance because 
speech, that is the speech of an adult and sober human being, 


has no involuntary and unconscious elements. If someone 
wants to tell a lie and is a capable liar, his words will serve 
him almost to perfection. But his face has areas over which he 
has no control. He may knit his brows and wrinkle his fore- 
head as much as he likes, the camera creeps up quite close 
and shows that his chin, which has no dirigible mimicry, is 
weak and frightened for all the bravado of the rest of the face. 
In vain does his mouth smile ever so sweetly — the lobe of his 
ear, the side of a nostril shown in isolated magnification reveal 
the hidden coarseness and cruelty. 

In one of Eisenstein's films there is a priest, a handsome, 
fine figure of a man. His noble features, his inspired eyes are 
made even more radiant by a glorious voice. He is like the 
sublime image of a saint. But then the camera gives an isolated 
big close-up of one eye; and a cunningly watchful furtive 
glance slinks out from under his beautiful silky eyelashes like 
an ugly caterpillar out of a delicate flower. Then the hand- 
some priest turns his head and a close-up shows the back 
of his head and the lobe of his ear from behind. And we see 
the ruthless, vicious selfishness of a coarse peasant expressed 
in them. This expression of the nape of the neck and ear-lobe 
is so incisive, so irresistibly convincing and so disgusting that 
when the noble face reappears, it is like a deceptive screen 
concealing a dangerous enemy. The expression of the whole 
face cannot cover up the expression of its details, if these 
details betray a different, more profound truth. Graphology 
claims to read the writer's true character from the handwriting 
even if what is written down is an untruth, but the ability to 
read handwriting in this way is a very rare gift. The art of 
reading faces was about to become the very useful property of 
the masses, thanks to the silent film. 


In the early days of the silent film 'microphysiognomics' had 
already shown that one can read more in a close-up of a face 
than what is visibly written on it. On a face, too, one can read 
'between the lines'. 

The Japanese actor Sessue Hayakawa was a film star of 


the early silent film. His speciality was an iron immobility of 
feature and his feelings and passions did not show in his face. 
His acting was notable for his restraint, his failure to act. How 
then did he nevertheless express his emotions so intelligibly 
that we understood what was going on in the film and were 
interested in the fate of the character he played? 

Once he acted this scene: he is captured by robbers and 
bound, then unexpectedly confronted with his wife whom he 
had believed in safety and who is now also a captive. He 
must not betray the fact that he knows this woman — his Ufa 
and hers depend on concealing this. The bandits have him 
covered with their guns and watch his face intently. A move- 
ment of a muscle, the slightest hint of any love, tenderness, 
anxiety, surprise or fear, any indication of what is going on 
inside him, would betray them both and be their death. But 
Hayakawa's hard Japanese face is a mask of stone. Nothing 
shows in his indifferent face of what we know is ravaging his 
heart. He looks into his wife's frightened eyes with a hard 
look and we are convinced that the bandits believe him when 
he says that he does not know this woman. 

Nevertheless we can see something in his eye. Not really 
something, for we could not say what it is. But we can see 
that there is something there that we cannot see. We can read 
between the lines of the petrified features — not only excite- 
ment and a deep affection, but a consoling encouragement that 
tells the wife's frightened, fixed stare : 'Speak not, move not, 
know me not. Fear not, all will be well!' It is the 'micro- 
physiognomies' of the close-up that have given us this subtlest 
play of features, almost imperceptible and yet so convincing. 
The invisible face behind the visible had made its appearance, 
the invisible face visible only to the one person to whom it 
addresses itself — and to the audience. 


In films in which a slight movement can express a deep 
passion and the tragedy of a soul can manifest itself in the 
twitching of an eyebrow, broad gesturing and grimacing be- 
come unbearable. The technique and style of 'microphysiog- 


nomics' greatly simplified the acting of film actors. Both ges- 
tures and play of features had to be toned down in comparison 
with the technique of the live stage. This is one of the reasons 
why the acting style of very old films now appears exaggerated 
and ridiculous. The microscopic close-up is an inexorable cen- 
sor of 'naturalness' of expression; it immediately shows up 
the difference between spontaneous reaction and deliberate, 
unnatural, forced gesture. Only nature moves naturally, even 
in human beings, and only the unconscious reflex-like reactions 
of the soul impress the onlooker as natural gestures. 

Even the best film actors are told by the director when a 
close-up is about to be made: 'Do what you like as long as 
you don't "act". Don't do anything at all, just feel and imagine 
the situation you are in and what then appears in the face of 
its own accord as it were and flexes the muscles in gesture is 
enough.' The close-up puts emphasis on the most delicate 

We cannot use glycerine tears in a close-up. What makes 
a deep impression is not a fat, oily tear rolling down a face — 
what moves us is to see the glance growing misty, and moisture 
gathering in the corner of the eye — moisture that as yet is 
scarcely a tear. This is moving, because this cannot be faked. 


The simplification of acting brought about by the close-up 
changed more than the style of acting. There was also a 
change in taste accompanying the change of trend which sub- 
stituted a neo-naturalistic tendency for the neo-romanticism 
of Rostand and Maeterlinck on the western European stage. 
After the first world war and the hysterical emotional fantasies 
of expressionism, a 'documentary', dry, anti-romantic and anti- 
emotional style was the fashion in the film as in the other arts. 

The simplified acting demanded by the close-up conformed 
to the new taste for the objective and unromantic and this cir- 
cumstance did much to popularize the American style of act- 
ing in Europe. 



Not only romantic acting went out of fashion but romantic 
faces as well. Especially among the male stars, popularity was 
diverted to those who had commonplace faces. Conrad Veidt's 
romantic, exalted, almost expressionist head, which brought 
him world success in the years immediately following the first 
world war, no longer appealed to the public. Not only was he 
crowded out by ordinary commonplace faces — he himself did 
his best to tone down his eccentric appearance and look as 
commonplace as possible, in order to be able to compete with 
rival stars. The decorative, out-of-the-or dinar y face now 
seemed a mask and no longer seemed attractive. Beauty, too, 
grew less important, for in the intimacy of the close-up the 
intimate details of the face gained in significance and such 
details could be discovered by the camera — and the spectator 
— in ugly faces no less than in handsome ones. 

simple voice s 

A related phenomenon is the aversion of the modern direc- 
tor to his characters having too fine and too well-trained 
voices — except when they play a professional singer or some- 
thing of the sort, of course. A too fine voice is not 'natural' 
and gives the impression of an artistic performance and not 
of a presentation of real life. A song sung by an untrained 
voice is more intimate and human in its effect. 


The value placed on being natural increased to such an 
extent that directors often attempted to do away with profes- 
sional actors altogether and take their characters 'from the 
street'. So far as extras were concerned it was certainly easier 
to find the right types among the crowds in the street if it 
was only a matter of episodic parts which involved no acting, 
and required merely being present and showing some sort of 
a face. But if the perfectly suitable type had to act and parti- 


cularly if he had to speak, the bad, amateurish acting often 
nullified the effect produced by the suitable physiognomy. 


To try to cut raw nature into a film is a dangerous business. 
The fanatics of 'naturalness' (such as Eisenstein and Pudovkin 
were at one time), simply brought in extras from the street and 
expected them to move naturally in the set, because they were 
not actors. But such strangers could not be natural, precisely 
because they were not actors and hence the studio was some- 
thing unnatural to them, making them unnatural themselves. 
But such adherents of the natural did even more than this: 
they attempted to cut real, natural facial expressions and ges- 
tures caught by the camera in the street, into the artistic 
sequences of their films. They tried to produce art by means 
of montage, by piecing together natural snapshots. If they 
wanted a woman looking in terror into the barrel of a gun 
directed at her and the acting of an actress was not natural 
enough for their requirements, they went out and searched 
for a truer one in the street. A woman screamed in terror 
because the pram with her baby in it overturned by accident. 
She was photographed without her knowledge and then this 
really unselfconscious, naturally terrified face was cut into 
the picture to face the gun. 

I am quoting this instance only as an illustration of the 
method. This method is always a deception; it is rendered 
possible only by the fact that our physiognomic culture is 
not as yet sufficiently sensitive to be able to differentiate 
between terrors induced by different causes — or different 
laughters for that matter. The close-up which has made us so 
sensitive to the naturalness of a facial expression will sooner 
or later develop our sensitivity further, so that we shall be 
able to discern in a facial expression its cause as well as its 
nature. Even now we often meet with the paradoxical situa- 
tion that in the good acting of a good actor things appear 
perfectly natural, while the photographed reproduction of 
actual reality does not seem natural at all, as for instance in 
snapshots of a running man or horse. 


Sometimes directors are compelled to produce facial expres- 
sions by means outside the story, as for instance in the case of 
children or primitive exotic characters. The more exotic and 
foreign the play of features, the more convincing it will be — 
we are insufficiently acquainted with Zulus or Chens to know 
when the expression is faked. 


In his book on film production, Pudovkin describes in detail 
the method by means of which he could harness the natural 
unconscious reactions he evoked and create a conscious artis- 
tic effect. But it is precisely this same book that shows how 
great and conscious an artist is required if unconscious nature 
is to be thus used and formed into a work of art. A vast 
physiognomical sensitivity is required if unconscious facial 
expressions are to be correctly assessed and used; if the expres- 
sions on faces, taken from a variety of situations and scenes, 
are to be so collated as to bring them into relation with each 
other and respond to each other like the phrases of a dialogue. 
This great director of silent films had the sure and sensitive 
eye which could discern in a chance face picked up in the 
street the very shade of expression required in a given scene. 
But in the sound film this method could be applied only to 
detail close-ups of silent crowd scenes. 


The acting of children is always natural, for make-believe 
is a natural thing to them. They do not want to 'register' this 
or that, like an actor; they just pretend that they are not what 
they are but something else and that they are not in the 
situation in which they are but in some other. This is not act- 
ing — it is a natural manifestation of youthful consciousness 
and it can be observed not only in the human young but in the 
young of other species as well. It is a transposition such as 
occurs in dreams, or in a trance. All those who have worked 
with children on the stage or in films will know that children 
should not be 'directed', they must be played with. It is not 


their acting which is natural — their nature is play-acting. 

The same can be observed in savages or primitives. The 
close-up often reveals unusual gestures and mimicry — unusual, 
that is, from the white man's viewpoint. If we understand 
them, they have a particularly fresh and immediately strong 
effect. But it often happens that we fail to understand them. 

Among the red Indians and Chinese for instance the expres- 
sion of pain or deep sorrow often looks like a smile to our 
eyes. Not always and not immediately do we know what it is 
intended to convey. But if we recognize it for what it is, an 
expression of pain, it moves us deeply, precisely because it is 


There was no need of close-ups to show us the typical com- 
mon traits of the great coloured races, the group physiog- 
nomies recognizable as Negro, Chinese, Eskimo, etc. On the 
contrary these exotic faces seemed all alike to us only because 
we knew them so superficially. Here the close-up was needed 
to show us the individual differences between one Chinese and 
the other, one Negro and the other. 

Nor was it a discovery to see characteristic English or 
French, Italian or German types in the films. We had known 
them well enough before. The film could at most improve our 
knowledge of the type by showing us new varieties. 

In any case, it is difficult to say which type of face is really 
representative of any nation or race. Is there an undisputed, 
generally accepted English face? If so, what is it like? And 
why should that particular face be the truly typical and not 
some other face? As there is a science of comparative linguis- 
tics, so there should be a comparative science of gesture and 
mimicry, with research into these in order to find the common 
fundamental forms of expressive movement. The film offers 
the means to establish such a science. 


An important innovation introduced by the film was the 


'typing' of class faces and facial expressions. Not stereotyped 
figures such as the 'over-refined degenerate aristocrat' con- 
trasted with the 'coarse, powerful labourer'. We know that 
these were rough generalizations and the close-up tore off 
these primitive masks. Behind the external, conventional char- 
acteristics, the close-up revealed the hidden, impersonal class 
traits in individual faces. These class characteristics are often 
more obvious than national or racial characteristics and the 
face of a French miner, for instance, is more like the face 
of a German or English miner, than like the face of a French 
aristocrat. The mixtures of national, racial and class character- 
istics show many interesting combinations and variations, but 
they all show human beings, human types. 

It is not by accident that the discovery and presentation of 
a rich gallery of class physiognomies fell to the lot of Soviet 
cinematography. Eyes sharpened by the revolutionary class 
struggle saw more than just the difference between 'rich' and 
'poor'. No theoretical type-analysis could show social stratifi- 
cations more completely than the 'typing' of certain Soviet 
films. Who does not remember Eisenstein's October? In it 
not only the faces of workers and of aristocrats are juxtaposed 
in open conflict with each other. The bourgeois liberals and 
the moderate Socialist intellectuals also wear their distinctive 
mark on their foreheads, and when the sailor bars their way 
on the bridge, face faces face, and two different conceptions of 
the world clash in two different, unmistakable physiognomies. 

A classic example of this is the magnificent scene in 
Dovzhenko's civil war film Arsenal. The scene shows the lull 
before the storm, the storm being the rising in Kiev. The title 
says 'Waiting for the First Shot'. The city is waiting in the 
night, motionless, with bated breath. No one is asleep. Every- 
one is waiting. For the first shot. 

Who is waiting? How are they waiting? Now in a series of 
brief scenes the film shows a cross-section of the social body 
of a whole city. The workman harks out. The soldier watches. 
The artisan listens. The merchant strains his ears. The factory- 
owner is on the alert. The teacher, the clerk, the landowner, 
the artist, the declassed down-and-out, the Bohemian — they 
are all looking expectantly into the darkness. How do we 


know who they are? The title does not tell us. It is written in 
their faces, unmistakably showing their class and showing it 
immanently in individual physiognomies; showing not man 
in his social class, but social class in men. When, after this 
scene, fighting breaks out in the streets, it is not only machine- 
guns and bayonets that are engaged in battle, but live human 
faces as well. 


The human face is not yet completely discovered — there are 
still many white patches on its map. One of the tasks of the 
film is to show us, by means of 'microphysiognomics', how 
much of what is in our faces is our own and how much of it 
is the common property of our family, nation or class. It 
can show how the individual trait merges with the general, 
until they are inseparably united and form as it were nuances 
of one another. Written psychology has often attempted to 
find by analysis the dividing line between the individual and 
the general. The 'microphysiognomics' of the film can differ- 
entiate more subtly and accurately than the most exact of 
words and hence it acquires, beside the artistic significance, an 
important scientific function, supplying invaluable material 
to anthropology and psychology. 


In the mingling of the individual and racial character two 
expressions are superimposed on each other like translucent 
masks. For instance, we often see a degenerate specimen of an 
ancient, long-civilized, refined race. The anatomy of an English 
aristocrat's face may bear a noble, handsome expression, the 
physiognomy of an ancient racial culture. But the close-up 
may show concealed beneath it the coarse and depraved 
expression of a base individual. Or the film may show the 
inverse variant: the soulful, beautiful physiognomy hiding 
between the typically coarse and ugly features of an uncul- 
tured race. 

'Microphysiognomics' can show, behind the faces we can 


control, those other faces which we cannot influence because 
they have already hardened into anatomy. 


This is another necessary consequence of micromimicry. 
The detailed psychology of the close-up picture occupied so 
much space (and so many feet) in the film, that less and less 
room was left for the story. The richer the episodes were in 
inner content, the fewer episodes had room in the film, the 
length of which is as unalterably predetermined as that of a 

But there was no longer any need for a multitude of adven- 
turous episodes, for a piling of event on event. The extensivity 
of the early colportage style gave way to intensity; the story 
turned inward, deepened, penetrated the soul. The develop- 
ment of the close-up changed the whole style of the film 
story and scenario. The stories now dealt with the hidden 
subtle adventures of the soul. 

Great novels rich in incident were no longer found suitable 
for filmic treatment. What was wanted were not intricate and 
adventurous, but plain and simple stories. The specific imagi- 
nation and inventiveness of the film-makers manifested itself 
in the pictorial forming of details and not in the visual activity 
of bustling scenes. What the film-makers now liked to show 
were scenes which could scarcely be described in words, which 
could be understood only when seen. In this way the silent 
film grew less and less 'literary', following in this respect the 
trend at that time prevalent in the art of painting. 


The technique of the close-up which thus simplified the 
story of the film and deepened and brought to dramatic life its 
smallest details, succeeded in lending dramatic tension to a 
mere state or condition, without any external event at all. It 
was able to make us feel nerve-rackingly the sultry tension 
underneath the superficial calm; the fierce storms raging under 
the surface were made tangible by mere microscopic move- 


ments, by the displacement of a hair. Such films were unsur- 
passed in showing the Strindbergian moods in the savagely 
antagonistic silences of human beings confined together in 
narrow spaces. The micro-tragedies in the peace and quiet of 
ordinary families were shown as deadly battles, just as the 
microscope shows the fierce struggles of micro-organisms in a 
drop of water. 


By the movement of the camera or the flickering of the 
montage even the physical immobility of such static conditions 
could be mobilized and dramatized. This is a means of expres- 
sion completely specific to the film. If for some reason or 
another movement is arrested in a scene on the stage or in 
the studio, then nothing moves there any more and there can 
be no question of tempo or rhythm. The film, however, pos- 
sesses this specific possibility that the scene that is being 
shot may be completely frozen and motionless and yet the 
scenes projected on to the screen can nevertheless be in violent 
and varied motion. The characters may not move, but our 
glance may leap from the one to the other as it is carried 
by the camera. Men and things do not move but the camera 
shifts rapidly and excitedly from the one to the other and 
the movement of motionless pictures collated by the cutting 
may have a swift, wild rhythm, making us feel the inner move- 
ment of the scene in despite of its outer immobility. The 
scene in its entirety may be motionless in deadly numbness, 
like a stationary great machine. But the rushing close-ups show 
the throbbing of some tiny wheel of the clockwork. We see an 
eyelid twitch, a lip curl in the motionless figures, their immo- 
bility replete with utmost tension. 

Lupu Pieck, who was one of the greatest German directors 
of the silent film, once made a crime film. In it safe-breakers 
burgling a bank vault inadvertently lock themselves into the 
underground vault. There is no way out of the trap and the 
mined vault would be blown up in ten minutes. A clock on the 
wall shows the passing of the minutes. Nine men dash to and 
fro in mad frenzy, searching for a way out. All in vain. There 


are three minutes left. They all stand still and stare numbly at 
the hands of the clock. They are waiting. Nothing moves in 
the vault save the hands of the clock. This utmost tension 
could not be increased any further by even the most frenzied 
movement of the characters. They even hold their breath, so 
complete is their numb immobility. 

On the stage such immobility is possible only for very brief 
periods. After a few moments the scene would become empty 
and dead, because nothing happens in it. But in the film a lot 
of things can happen even when the characters are motion- 
less. For the camera can move even while they do not. The 
quick cross-cutting of close-ups can move. In the bank vault 
just mentioned the camera rushes to and fro and the pictures 
move faster and more fiercely than the actors could. The actors 
are motionless and silent. But the flickering close-ups, the 
'microphysiognomies' speak. They show not a general picture 
of fear, but the horrible symphony of every phase in nine 
distinct mortal agonies of terror. The crescendo of fear is 
shown by the increasingly rapid rhythm of ever shorter close- 
ups in an ever-quickening montage. 

An ant-heap is lifeless if seen from a distance, but at close 
quarters it is teeming with busy life. The grey, dull texture 
of everyday life shows in its inicrodramatics many profoundly 
moving happenings, if we look at it carefully enough in close- 


In the heyday of the silent film there was a vogue for 
realistic films featuring the commonplace and dramatizing the 
things we usually leave unheeded. It was at this time that 
King Vidor made his great film showing the workaday life 
of the average American man-in-the-street. It is a monotonous 
affair and yet, how many moving, terrifying, and happy little 
events occur in it, hidden melodies contained in a monotone. 

Of course this technique achieves its greatest effects when 
it spreads out the crucial moment of an action film in the 
ritardando of detail close-ups, showing that crucial moment 
in instantaneous sections of time when everything still hangs in 


the balance, the pointer of the scales is still oscillating and 
it is not yet certain in which direction it will finally point. 


Let us look at the final scene of Reisman's masterpiece: 
The Last Night. A military train steams into a railway station 
in Petrograd, which has been occupied by the revolutionaries. 
It is a mysterious, closed train. Has it brought friends or 
enemies? We don't know. Bayonets bristle at every window 
and door of the train, but not a face do we see. Rifle barrels 
point at the train from every door and window of the station 
buildings. Who is in there? Friend or foe? No man wants 
to be the first to step out on to the deserted platform. Expec- 
tation and silence. Only the hissing of steam is heard. All 
action has stopped. But the fate of the station, of the town, 
perhaps of the whole revolution turns on what will happen 
in the next few minutes. This frozen state of tension, of doubt 
and expectation is not really motionless however. Its elements 
are agog with nervous impatience. In the restless cross-cutting 
of close-ups, tiny gestures of boiling excitement sizzle and 
bubble. Finally an old peasant woman steps on to the platform 
alone and unarmed, goes to the military train and speaks, asks 
questions . . . 

Of course this scene could not have achieved such power- 
ful tension if the whole film had shown such immobility; the 
effect is similar to a pause suddenly occurring in a dynamic 
burst of music. 


The development of the microdramatics of the close-up to 
a stage when experiments were made to produce, not only 
films without dramatic action, but even films without a cen- 
tral dramatic hero, will be dealt with in later chapters, together 
with other developments. But one thing should be noted here : 
if stories without plot and incident, single-situation stories 
escaped the reproach of being 'literature', this had disadvan- 
tages as well as advantages, for there was an increasing ten- 


dency to make films of which only the details were interesting, 
while the whole story was over-simple and trivial. 

There was of course an ideological reason for this, as for 
every other fashion in art. The escapism which, almost from 
the start, was the dominant tendency in the bourgeois film was 
here given a new direction. Having first escaped to the fairy- 
tale romanticism of exotic adventure, the film now escaped to 
the small detail of the new naturalist style. In its fear of the 
whole truth, it hid its head like an ostrich in the sand of tiny 
particles of reality. 



Changing set-up is the second great creative method 
of film art. In this again it differs from the principles and 
methods of every other art. In the theatre we see everything 
from the same viewpoint, from the same angle, that is in the 
same perspective. The photographed theatre could not change 
this very much. It sometimes changed the angle or perspective 
from scene to scene but never within the same scene. Differ- 
ent paintings have different perspectives and this is their essen- 
tial artistic creative element, their artistic characteristic. But 
the perspective of every single painting is one and immutable; 
hence the outline of every object shown in the picture is 
finite, a single definite shape. It may have an expressive 
physiognomy, but never a changing expression, such as the 
movement of changing outlines, which changing set-ups can 
give to things in a film. 

Only the changing set-up enabled cinematography to develop 
into an art. No lighting effects could have done it if the 
camera could not have been moved in relation to the object. 
Cinematography would have remained mechanical reproduc- 


The free, individual possibilities of the set-up bring about in 
the image the synthesis of subject and object which is the 
basic condition of all art. Every work of art must present not 
only objective reality but the subjective personality of the 
artist, and this personality includes his way of looking at 
things, his ideology and the limitations of the period. All this 
is projected into the picture, even unintentionally. Every pic- 
ture shows not only a piece of reality, but a point of view as 



well. The set-up of the camera betrays the inner attitude of the 
man behind the camera. 

Even the most faithful portraits, the best likenesses, if they 
are works of art, reproduce not only the sitter but the artist as 
well. A painter has many ways of painting his own self into 
his pictures. Composition, colour, brushwork all show at least 
as much of him as of the objective reality he depicts. But the 
personality of the film-maker can manifest itself in one thing 
only : the set-up, which also determines the composition of the 


Every object, be it man or beast, natural phenomenon or 
artefact has a thousand shapes, according to the angle from 
which we regard and pin down its outlines. In each of the 
shapes defined by a thousand different outlines we may recog- 
nize one and the same object, for they all resemble their com- 
mon model even if they do not resemble each other. But each 
of them expresses a different point of view, a different inter- 
pretation, a different mood. Each visual angle signifies an inner 
attitude. There is nothing more subjective than the objective. 

The technique of the set-up renders possible the identifica- 
tion which we have already met as the most specific effect of 
film art. The camera looks at the other characters and their 
surroundings out of the eyes of one of the characters. It can 
look about it out of the eyes of a different character every 
instant. By means of such set-ups we see the scene of action 
from the inside, with the eyes of the dramatis persona? and 
know how they feel in it. The abyss into which the hero is fall- 
ing opens at our feet and the heights which he must climb rear 
themselves into the sky before our faces. If the landscape in 
the film changes, we feel as if we had moved away. Thus the 
constantly changing set-ups give the spectator the feeling that 
he himself is moving, just as one has the illusion of moving 
when a train on the next platform starts to leave the station. 
The true task of film art is to deepen into artistic effects the 
new psychological effects made possible by the technique of 


'deja vu ' 

This identification of the picture and the spectator (for the 
picture incorporates the point of view of those with whose eyes 
it is seen) makes it possible for the film to recall to mind, by 
the repetition of certain set-ups, the persons who at one time 
or another had seen that certain picture in the film. A face or a 
landscape must reappear in the memory as it was seen in 
reality, else it would not again conjure up the same mood. 
On the other hand a repetition of the set-up can stimulate the 
memory of some past experience and produce the well-known 
psychological effect of 'having seen it before'. 

In the film Narcosis which Alfred Abel and I made in 
Berlin a long time ago, the hero, after many years, meets again 
a girl he had forgotten and who has changed so much that he 
does not recognize her. The girl does not tell him who she 
is but arranges a scene identical with the one in which her 
fate was decided. She sits in the same chair, in front of the 
same fire, her face lit up by the flames in the same way. She 
makes the man take the same chair out of which he looked at 
her in the old days. She reconstructs the same set-up in which 
the man got his first impression of her. The film repeats the 
old picture and the spectator has no doubt that the scene will 
recall the old experience to the hero. 


The physiognomy of every object in a film picture is a com- 
posite of two physiognomies — one is that of the object, its very 
own, which is quite independent of the spectator — and another 
physiognomy, determined by the viewpoint of the spectator 
and the perspective of the picture. In the shot the two merge 
into so close a unity that only a very practised eye is capable 
of distinguishing these two components in the picture itself. 
The cameraman may pursue several aims in choosing his 
angle. He may wish to stress the real objective face of the 
object shown; in that case he will search for the outlines which 
express this character of the object most adequately — or he 
may be more concerned with showing the state of mind of the 


spectator, in which case he will, if he wants to convey the 
impressions of a frightened man, present the object at a dis- 
torting angle, lending the object a terrifying aspect; or if he 
wants to show us the world as seen by a happy man, give us 
a picture of the object from the most favourable, flattering 
angle. By such means is achieved the emotional identification 
of the spectator with the characters in the film, and not only 
with their position in space but with their state of mind as 
well. Set-up and angle can make things hateful, lovable, terrify- 
ing, or ridiculous at will. 

Angle and set-up lend the pictures in a film pathos or 
charm, cold objectivity or fantastic romantic qualities. The 
art of angle and set-up are to the director and cameraman 
what style is to the narrator and it is here that the personality 
of the creative artist is the most immediately reflected. 


Everything that men see has a familiar visage — this is an 
inevitable form of our perception. As we cannot sense things 
outside space and time, so we cannot see them without physiog- 
nomy. Every shape makes a — mostly unconscious — emotional 
impression on us, which may be pleasant or unpleasant, alarm- 
ing or reassuring, because it reminds us, however distantly, of 
some human face, which we ourselves project into it. Our 
anthropomorphous world-vision makes us see a human 
physiognomy in every phenomenon. This is why, as children, 
we were frightened of the grinning furniture in a dark room 
or the nodding trees in a dark garden and this is why, as 
adults, we rejoice in the landscape which looks back at us 
with friendly and intelligent recognition, as if calling us by 
name. This anthropomorphous world is the only possible sub- 
ject of all art and the poet's word or the painter's brush can 
bring life into none but a humanized reality. 

In the film it is the art of angle and set-up that reveals this 
anthropomorphous physiognomy in every object and it is one 
of the postulates of film art that not an inch of any frame 
should be neutral — it must be expressive, it must be gesture 
and physiognomy. 



The omniscient Goethe seems already to have been speak- 
ing of this great mission of the film when he wrote in his 
Contributions to Lavater's Physiognomic Fragments : 

The things surrounding men do not merely act upon them 
— men react on their surroundings too and while they allow 
things to change them, they in return change things. The 
clothes and household goods of a man permit a sure conclusion 
to be drawn as to his character. Nature forms man and man 
forms nature and this, too, is a natural process. Man set down 
in the middle of an immense world, cuts himself a little world 
out of it and hangs it full of his own images. 

Hangs it full of his own images. This vision of the mag- 
nificently rational thinker, Goethe, can be realized in no art 
more completely than in the film, which can, by means of 
angle and set-up, choose and stress those outlines of every 
object which lend it a living characteristic physiognomy. 

Such surprisingly live outlines are often unusual. In every- 
day life it is not thus we see things. But the truth is that in 
everyday life we usually don't see them at all. Custom spreads 
a veil over our eyes. Baudelaire wrote in his diary: 'What is 
not deformed is not perceptible'. Only by means of unaccus- 
tomed and unexpected outlines produced by striking set-ups, 
can old, familiar and therefore never seen things hit our eye 
with new impressions. 

Things may, of course, be deformed to a degree which 
makes them unrecognizable. In such cases the work of art, 
consisting of a synthesis of the subject and object, is so heavily 
weighted in favour of the subjective element that it ceases to 
be a reproduction of some reality and hence loses its value. 
The dangers of such arbitrary subjectivity will be discussed 
later in connection with the avant-garde and 'absolute' film 


Frequently, however, the film aims at demonstrating pre- 
cisely the excessive subjectivity of a character by showing the 


world, from his viewpoint and out of his mood, as completely 
deformed. The film can show not only a drunk reeling along 
the street, but those distorted reeling houses as well, which 
the drunk sees with his drunken eye. His subjective vision is 
reproduced by the film as objective reality. 

A film once showed the same street in four entirely different 
aspects, when four different people walked along it, each see- 
ing it in his own fashion. We saw the same houses, shop- 
windows, street lamps, poster hoardings, once with the eyes of 
a fat and contented shopkeeper, once with the eyes of an 
empty-bellied unemployed workman, of a happy lover, of an 
unhappy lover — the objects were the same but their pictures 
were very different, although all that was different was the 
set-up and angle. 


This sort of thing can be compared with a theme with varia- 
tions, a mighty example of which can be seen in Dovzhenko's 
film Ivan. The film shows the building of the great Dniepros- 
troi dam four times. First it is seen by Ivan, the peasant lad 
who has just come from his village to find work on the great 
project. It is a night picture and shows a terrifying, inferno- 
like chaos. Smoking, flame-belching furnaces, incomprehen- 
sible, mythical monsters. A confused, impenetrable, titanic 
jungle of enormous iron beams and wheels within wheels. It 
is the peasant boy's vision of an industrial building site and 
the cameraman with his set-up has drawn its terrifying out- 

The next time we see the site, it is with the eyes of Ivan who 
is now a full-fledged industrial worker. Now it is a picture of 
order and purpose. A steel structure of reason moving pre- 
cisely on pinion-wheels of logic. Clear, exact, transparent, it 
is as if the inner mechanism of a creative brain had been laid 
bare. Ivan is working there and he knows what he is doing and 

Then we see the giant hydro-electric station in the making 
a third time, but not with the eyes of Ivan. This time the eyes 
belong to a woman whose son has been crushed to death by 


the giant machines. She rushes across the site in despair, sur- 
rounded by the murderous devices that killed her boy. The 
set-up is different and how different are their faces ! They are 
no longer sensible mechanisms serving a reasonable purpose, 
but fierce and incalculable antediluvian monsters which lash 
out with their heavy arms at the puny men who stray within 
their reach. The terrifying wild beasts of a primeval jungle, 
they are now the deadly enemies of man. Nevertheless Dov- 
zhenko still shows us the same building site — only the different 
set-up makes it reflect the terrors of an unhappy bereaved 

There is a fourth variation to the theme. The mother has 
rushed into the building office with her complaint and her 
accusations. She bursts into the room of the chief engineer, 
who is just reporting the accident to the authorities. The 
woman waits and hears what is being said. Her son, a member 
of the Komsomol, volunteered for a dangerous bit of rescue 
work in the interests of the project and of the country. The 
woman does not wait to hear the end of the telephone conver- 
sation. She has heard enough. Her son was a hero. She walks 
out of the office and goes back to her work along the same 
road she came. She sees the same giant dredgers and derricks 
as before. But she sees them with a different eye. She holds 
her head erect and there is pride in every feature. The same 
machines now seem sublime steel columns of some gigantic 
temple. She walks amid grandeur and beauty and we hear the 
strains of a great psalm, a swelling hymn of fruitful labour 
and it is as though the pictures themselves were singing. 

These variations of the same picture were not projections 
of the author's subjective moods, but objective presentations of 
the subjective emotions of the characters. After all, we show 
dream pictures in the films. Dream pictures are so subjective 
that they are not images of some outside reality; they are born 
from the inner images of the memory. Nevertheless dreaming is 
a natural, existing objective phenomenon, the specific material 
of film art. 



Even the stage, if it is good, will not tolerate neutral scenery, 
i.e. backgrounds which are not drenched as it were with the 
blood of the scene which is being enacted in front of it. Even 
the painter of stage scenery wants to project the mood of the 
scene on to the set, as a sort of visual echo of what is happen- 
ing on the stage. But unlike the film-maker, he cannot show 
any changes of mood that occur during the scene. 

The eternal and insoluble contradiction between the living 
actor and the dead scenery, the flesh-and-blood figure and the 
painted perspective of the background anyway places the 
background outside the play; it relegates the background to 
the background as it were. Not so in the film. There man and 
background are of the same stuff, both are mere pictures and 
hence there is no difference in the reality of man and object. 
The film, like the painting, thus offers the possibility of giving 
the background, the surroundings, a physiognomy no less in- 
tense than the faces of the characters — or, as in Van Gogh's 
late pictures, an even more intense physiognomy, so that the 
violent expressive power of the objects makes that of the 
human characters pale into insignificance. 

Usually, of course, there is no contradiction between the 
facial expression of the characters and the physiognomy of 
the surrounding objects. The expression of the human face 
radiates beyond the outlines of the face and is repeated in the 
images of furniture, trees or clouds. The mood of a land- 
scape, or of a room, prepares us for the scene to be enacted 
in it. All this the film-maker achieves by means of his set-up. 


How is the countryside turned into landscape? Not every 
bit of nature is a landscape in itself. The countryside has only 
a topography, which is a thing that can be exactly reproduced 
on a military map. But the landscape expresses a mood, which 
is not merely objectively given; it needs the co-operation of 
subjective factors before it can come into existence. The phrase 


is 'the mood of the landscape' but there is no mood save that 
of some human being and those who look at the countryside 
with the greatest objectivity — a farmer, for instance — would 
be least likely to see any sort of 'mood' in it. 'Mood' is the 
feeling of the painter, the artist, not of the ploughman, the 
shepherd, or the wood-cutter, whose business with nature is 
not of the soul but of the body, a practical, not artistic activity. 
The landscape is the physiognomy of some countryside, as 
seen by the painter who can put it on his canvas, but also by 
the cameraman who can shoot it with an appropriate set-up. 
It is as though the countryside were suddenly lifting its veil 
and showing its face, and on the face an expression which we 
recognize though we could not give it a name. There have 
already been several landscape artists of genius in the film, 
artists of that moving landscape which has not only a physiog- 
nomy, but mimicry and gesture too. On these landscapes the 
clouds gather, the mist drives, the reeds tremble and shiver in 
the wind, the branches of the trees nod and toss and the 
shadows play hide-and-seek — these are film landscapes which 
wake at daybreak and darken to tragedy at the setting of the 
sun. There is no painter born whose motionless pictures could 
match this experience. 


The 'soul of nature' is our own soul which the cameraman 
picks out of the objective shapes of the countryside. Nature 
was not always naturally a subject and material for art. Man 
first had to permeate nature with his own humanity, turn 
nature into something human. The great art of the Christian 
Middle Ages knew nothing of this 'soul of nature' and the 
self-sufficient and meaningful beauty of the landscape. Nature 
was merely a background, the space in which human events 
and scenes were played out. In Europe it was the art of the 
Renaissance which first transformed lifeless nature into living 
landscape. It is well known that Petrarch was the first to whom 
it occurred to climb a mountain peak solely for the pleasure 
of looking down from there on the beauty of the countryside 
below. Tourist travel is an entirely modern phenomenon. The 



history of art shows us how and when new spheres of reality 
are opened up to art, become presentable as it were. For 
instance, not every kind of human labour is as old a theme of 
art as is agricultural work. In the tilling of the soil men have 
felt from time immemorial the unobjectivized relationship of 
man to his occupation! It has ever been natural and reason- 
able, like the suckling of a child — it is what men live by. But 
factory work was for a long time outside the sphere of poetry 
and art and its transition to the dignity of artistic theme is still 
difficult, because for a long time it had no human physiog- 
nomy, was not imbued with a human soul. It appeared in- 
human, mechanical, forced, unnatural labour; to use Marx's 
classic expression, it seemed objectivized action, because man 
was only a part of the machine and his human individuality 
had no opportunity to find expression. For this reason man's 
humanity did not radiate into the machine and therefore it 
was no thing of beauty, no subject for art. 


By this attitude to the machine, art again expressed a real 
situation, even though only a negative one. With the growth of 
the revolutionary consciousness of the working-class the great 
human significance and dignity of industrial labour also be- 
came recognized. In Meunier's miners, in Frank Brangwyn's 
etchings, and many other works of great artists the industrial 
worker and his labour appear as artistic themes. 

What had happened? Had industrial labour, which had 
been ugly, now suddenly become beautiful? No. But in the 
light of the increasingly revolutionary consciousness of the 
workers, the workers themselves acquired a defiant dignity 
and a changed physiognomy. And it was their rebellious anger 
which lent the tormenting, exploiting, inhuman machine a 
hateful, diabolically animated physiognomy. Thus it was that 
the factory came to be a subject for artistic presentation, es- 
pecially of film presentation. It provided no idyllic features, 
like the life of the ploughman and shepherd. A modern, revo- 
lutionary, realistic art showed in the film with increasing 


frequency the face of man-devouring mechanical monsters that 
were the instruments of man's exploitation. The set-ups devised 
by revolutionary directors and cameramen unmasked the true 
face of the machine. Such is for instance the unforgettable 
documentary Joris Ivens made of the Phillips wireless factory. 
The conveyor belt and the women working at it are shown 
so expressively that the spectator holds his breath in fear that 
the girls may not be able to deal quickly enough with the 
avalanche of parts sweeping towards them. 

It is not by accident that the physiognomy of industrial 
plant and machines so often shown in Soviet films are in con- 
trast so friendly and encouraging. The set-up is different. And 
the cameraman's set-up is different because the attitude of the 
workers to those machines is different — they are no longer 
considered exploiters and tormentors of the workers but aids, 
instruments, co-operators in the building of the workers' own 
lives. This is all a matter of set-up and therefore peculiar to 
the film. 

Karl Grune once made a very interesting film about miners. 
The story had a revolutionary slant, but much more revolu- 
tionary was the spirit of the actual shots and set-ups. The sub- 
ject was the pit itself and the main characters were the shafts 
and galleries, the machines and the work. What it showed was 
not the facts of coal-getting, in the manner of a documentary 
— it presented by means of special set-ups, the physiognomy 
of those same facts, seen not objectively but emotionally. The 
cage which carried the colliers down to the coalface had a 
grim face stonily set in an inexorable expression. It seemed a 
dreadful prison cell when its door closed and the miners 
looked out from behind bars as it began to descend to the 
depths. Grune saw this descent to the dangers of the pit with 
the eyes of the colliers and photographed it from their inner 
angle of vision. 


One scene of this film showed the dressing-room in which 
the miners changed. They took off their civilian clothes, put on 
their working clothes and hung their civilian clothes on hooks 


provided for this. There was a close-up of these clothes hang- 
ing on their hooks and they looked like a row of men hanging 
on a gibbet. It was a tormenting sight. Everyone could under- 
stand the symbolic meaning of this physiognomy. The picture 
said: 'Look, here hangs the man the collier has had to dis- 
card. He has to leave this man behind. What goes down in the 
cage to the pit is only a machine — nothing more'. 

The heavy black smoke pouring out of chimneys and cas- 
cading down to the ground symbolized who knows how much 
hopeless, frustrating longing. A silent film, it did not give the 
alarm by sounding sirens — it showed it by the thick streams 
of steam shooting out of the steam whistles, but in them one 
could see the despairing shriek of thousands. 

One picture showed the hero with the door of the cage just 
closing on him and in that instant he sees a rival accost his 
wife. Like a caged wild beast the husband glares from behind 
the grating of the door, a helpless prisoner in the iron-barred 
prison-cell of toil which begins to sink irresistibly down with 
him. The set-up showed a clear and deep symbolism no one 
could fail to understand. 


A classic example of this occurs in Eisenstein's Battleship 
Potemkin. A mutiny has broken out and there is fighting be- 
tween officers and ratings. It is not an organized, disciplined, 
tactically led battle of coherent groups, but a wild fierce 
struggle on deck among ropes and woodwork, on stairs and 
ladders, in cabins and gun-turrets, rushings and tumblings, 
blows, wrestling, the wallowing of bodies locked in struggle, 
the flailing of legs and arms, a chaotic clash of irreconcilable 
enemies. This magnificent stormy rhythm cannot be speeded 
up. And yet it must be. Because the monotonous gloom of a 
desert landscape is increased by its remaining uniformly the 
same. But the rhythm of a hurricane, if it remains the same 
for two minutes, tires the spectator. What is by its nature 
motionless can remain motionless for ever. But movement in 
art requires either a crescendo or a diminuendo, else it grows 


Eisenstein was faced with the task of increasing the speed 
and movement of a scene in which direction and acting no 
longer offered possibilities of a higher speed. What he did was 
to increase, not the violence of the scene, but the violence of 
the pictures of the scene. The struggle itself was no fiercer than 
before. But the set-ups in which it appeared on the screen 
grew fiercer and fiercer. At first we saw the savage fight from 
the plain full-front angle. But when we began to tire of this, the 
combatants were shown from below, from above, from the 
strangest angles, so that not only did the men stand on their 
heads or take flying leaps, but the pictures too, and their 
physiognomies were ever more haggard and distorted than the 
faces of the struggling men. But the fight goes on and the 
violence of the shots must be increased still more. Now 
the tussle is shown not only from steep and oblique angles — the 
camera takes shots between taut ropes, from behind gratings, 
across the rungs of ladders and the iron treads of companion- 
ways. The gestures of the combatants cannot be made any 
fiercer, but the ropes, the gratings, the rungs chop up the shots. 
Men are merely at each other's throats, but the shots do more; 
they dismember them, by means of set-ups and angles. 


The bounds of realist art may be defined thus : the artist 
may see any however unusual and strange physiognomy in his 
object, but as long as he sees it in the object and cuts it out of 
it, as Michelangelo cut the figures he saw in his mind out of 
the block of marble, so long as he derives the physiognomy of 
his work of art from his object and does not project it into 
the object, so long is his art realistic. The artist is a realist as 
long as he does not change the structure and meaning of his 
object by subjectively drawn outlines. A caricature may dis- 
tort as much as it pleases, as long as the distorted face remains 
recognizable. But if we no longer recognize the face, the cari- 
cature is no longer funny, for the comic quality lies in the 
resemblance and the recognition. If there is no longer any 
recognition of the object, then there is no longer any distor- 
tion of something we know, but just a grimace without relation 


to anything else. Distortion, whether its purpose is satire or 
serious psychological analysis, must always be the distortion 
of something. If that something is no longer present in the 
picture then the meaning and significance of the distortion is 
also gone. For if we exaggerate something, but no one knows 
what we are exaggerating, then no one can discern that it is 


What I said obtains in painting and sculpture, where it is 
entirely in the hands of the artist to decide how and where he 
draws his outlines. But however surprising the outlines pro- 
duced by a camera angle may be, the basic shape of the object 
cannot be changed by this means. Then can it overstep the 
boundaries of realism? 

Yes, it can. The picture of an object can be unreal even 
if it is an exact photographic reproduction of the object. This 
happens when the object is unrecognizable. There are certain 
perspectives and angles the strangeness, characteristic quality 
and unusual originality of which are cancelled out because 
they are overdone, so that one can no longer recognize the 
object to be represented. A reproduction of an object can be 
unusual and surprising only if we are familiar with the object 
from a different angle, have been accustomed to seeing it in a 
different way, that is if we know what the object is. There was 
a vogue at one time for riddle photographs in illustrated 
papers. The reader had to guess what the photograph was 
supposed to show. The unusual angle of the shot made the 
object unrecognizable. The film must avoid such riddles. 


There is yet another method of photography which is also 
unreal artistically. This is to show objects from angles or in set- 
ups in which the human eye cannot see them in normal circum- 
stances. The automatic camera can be brought into positions 
in which a live human being could never be. One can swallow 
a camera and make a photograph of the human stomach from 


the inside. It is of incalculable value to science that we can 
thus extend our visual observation beyond the limits of imme- 
diate natural human vision. But to art such pictures are with- 
out value. If the theme catexochen of art is the inner experi- 
ence (that is, not the scientific perception of the object in it- 
self but the reflection of the objective world in our sensual 
perception); if the relationship of object and subject coupled 
in art expresses the emotional relationship of healthy man to 
the outer world, then no picture can be a realistic work of art 
if it can be seen by human beings only through the inter- 
mediary of some mechanical contrivance and never as a typi- 
cal, natural, immediate experience. 


Very unusual angles must be motivated by the condition of 
the character through whose eyes we look at the thing pre- 
sented. A picture will be unusual if it is seen by a fever-sick 
person, or if we look at it and show it as seen by a very short- 
sighted eye. But it is not enough to give a mere logical ex- 
planation of the strangeness, the unusual character of a shot, 
we must also give an artistic motivation of such unusual set- 
ups. For unusual angles produce unusual physiognomies and 
those in their turn produce unusual moods. But such moods 
must always be the result of deliberate purpose on the part of 
the film-maker, they must always emanate from the content of 
the scene, the state of mind of the characters — otherwise they 
will remain mere empty tricks of form. 

It would not be realistic to show things seen by a feverish 
or drunken man realistically. But the face of things is changed 
by other things beside a high temperature or too much alcohol; 
passion, hatred, love or fear can have the same result. On the 
other hand a director often intends only to emphasize the 
exotic nature of a scene or of the place where a scene is 
enacted and may use an unusual angle for this purpose. For 
instance an opium den may be a quite ordinary room, but the 
fantastic quality of the things happening there can be con- 
veyed visually by showing the room from an unusual angle. 



The photo-caricature is more effective, because it can be 
more convincing, than the drawn caricature. For the photo- 
graph cannot suppress facts completely, not even the facts of 
shape. The camera can take only what is really visible if we 
look at the object from a certain angle in a certain way. The 
photographic caricature is more murderous because it is more 

Hisenstein and his brilliant cameraman, Tisse, gave us a 
magnificent caricature of an office. The angles of the close-ups 
of typewriter and inkstand, pen and rubber-stamp, pencil and 
pencil-sharpener lend these objects a grotesque monumentality, 
give them important, even majestic physiognomies and breathe 
a demoniac life of their own into them. The technical requi- 
sites of the office, which appear more important than the 
human beings in it, provide a biting satire on bureaucracy. 

Such improbable magnifications are achieved not merely by 
camera set-ups but by certain photo-technical 'effects', hence 
they are not, properly speaking, 'natural' impressions. In such 
cases the spectator must be advised in advance that the pic- 
tures are deliberately intended to be satirical caricatures. For 
if the spectator expects to find objective reality in such pic- 
tures, they will appear unreal to him; only if he looks at them 
as pictorial fantasies will he discover a deep reality in them. 


Every emotion which shows in the face shows inasmuch and 
because it changes the normal features of the face, or rather 
moves them in some way from their quiescent position. The 
stronger the emotion, the greater the distortion of the face. A 
perfectly 'normal' face, if such a thing existed at all, would be 
expressionless, empty, would not be a physiognomy at all. 

The expressionists hold that only the expression (which is 
the bodily manifestation of the spirit) matters at all — the phy- 
sical material of the face is merely an obstacle and the soul- 
revealing physiognomy should be freed from the raw, unillu- 
minated material of the flesh. The true expressionists pro- 


claimed that the artist who sees and reproduces a physiognomy 
should not allow himself to be limited by the natural outlines 
of the face. Why should not the expressive lines of the face be 
drawn beyond the boundaries set by anatomy? Why should 
not the smile be broader than the natural mouth? Why not, 
if doing so would increase its expressive significance? The 
emotions of men are always greater than can be expressed by 
gesture within the miserably narrow limits of their bodily 
being. The swing of our arm always lags behind the inner elan 
of our spirit. Our 'natural' expressive movements are always 
rudimentary and incomplete, because our boundless emotions 
are hemmed in by our bodily limitations. 

The film guarantees the authenticity of the expressionist 
distortion, because the spectator knows that the picture is a 
photograph and cannot therefore arbitrarily change the shape 
of its object. For this reason the expressionist style could no- 
where be as convincing and effective as in the film where there 
is no way of checking up whether the angle and set-up bring 
out of the object only such expressions as they found in it. 

The Cabinet of Dr Caligari 

Expressionism in the film has many degrees, from the ex- 
pressivity of the theme, where the style is determined merely 
by the collating of curious motives, surroundings and back- 
grounds, to the complete and pure expressionism embodied in 
the famous Cabinet of Dr Caligari which deserves a chapter 
to itself in the history of film art and in which the physiognomy 
and mimicry of things achieved the same democratic anima- 
tion as the faces and gestures of the human characters. At the 
peak of the development of the silent film there was scarcely 
a director of any talent who would have tolerated neutral, life- 
less backgrounds and would not have striven to suggest, in the 
shapes of the set, a vague parallel to the expressive line in the 
faces and gestures of the characters, thus expanding human 
emotions by visual means into an atmosphere pervading the 
whole picture. This expressionism of physiognomic resonance 
had at that time already come to be an obligatory element of 
film technique. But in the Caligari film there was more than 


this; in it all the objects surrounding the human characters 
had become their active and equal partners. Houses, furniture 
and other things all grimaced like the living personages and 
looked at the human actors as though with eyes. The director, 
Robert Wiene, felt the need of some apology for presenting 
this filmic vision of the delusions of persecution mania and 
added this sub-title to the title of his film : 'How a madman 
sees the world'. 

We do actually see madmen and a lunatic asylum in the film, 
but they too are shown in such apparition-like visions. Who is 
it who sees them with such strange eyes? Obviously the be- 
holder must be outside the story and it is obvious that it is 
the author, the film-maker himself who is the madman seeing 
the world in this strange fashion. 

The problematic character of this very interesting and in- 
spiring film lies in the fact that in it the film to a great extent 
ceased to be creative art, for its interesting physiognomic 
effects were not brought about by camera angles and set-ups 
which lend the real objects of a real world characteristic, 
passion-twisted outlines. In this film the camera showed photo- 
graphic reproductions of finished expressionist paintings — it 
was not the camera that gave the slants and distorted the out- 
lines. The houses were built crookedly in the studio, the lamp- 
standards were set up at crazy angles and the trees were the 
work of the scenery-painters. The camera did nothing but 
photograph and did not demonstrate how individual moods 
can deform the normal aspect of things. The Cabinet of Dr 
Caligari was a film-painting, the picture of a picture, not pri- 
mary but second-hand. 


It is for this reason that all stylized scenery is unsatisfactory 
in a film. One may reproduce anything in nature in a film 
studio, but it must be a faithful copy of nature and look just 
like the natural thing, transplanted into the studio for reasons 
of technical convenience, lighting, etc. Even in the studio, it 
still remains merely an object for the creative artistry of the 
camera. The creative work of stylization should be left to the 


lighting, the set-up, in other words to the shooting. Only thus 
will the result be first-hand film art. 


In comparing the film with the live stage, it is usually re- 
garded as an advantage of the former that it can show crowd 
scenes. Even the largest stage can accommodate comparatively 
few people, while the film can use tens of thousands of extras 
if need be. However, the film director who can produce the 
effect of large crowds only by actually showing a multitude of 
people is not much of a director. To mention only one in- 
stance : far larger crowds can be suggested by putting them be- 
hind a smoke-screen than the film could actually show in an 
open space. What gives the impression of large crowds is not 
the actual numerical multitude. In the perspective of an end- 
less desert even a hundred thousand men can appear a mere 
handful. It is the business of perspective and set-up to produce 
the illusion required, and the use of such impressionist methods 
affords great scope for this sort of filmic effect. A hundred 
raised fists crowded into the narrow space of a single shot can 
make us sense the violence of mass passion far more intensely 
than say a disciplined march of ten thousand demonstrators. 

The cameraman can also suggest things which cannot for 
one reason or another be actually shown. The set-up and angle 
must stimulate the imagination and direct it into certain chan- 
nels. Often the most accurate and careful photographic views 
of a town convey nothing of its real physiognomy. The dark 
silhouette of a bridge, a gondola rocking under it in the water- 
reflected light of a lantern, marble stairs dipping into dirty 
water can reproduce far more of the atmosphere of Venice 
than the most authentic and accurate photographs of the great 
row of palaces along the Canal Grande. 


Happenings, events, also have an emotional colouring of 
their own which can often be shown more intensively in a well- 
angled detail shot than in an objective photograph of a whole 


scene. Steam rushing out of sirens, ringers knocking on a win- 
dow, the slanted picture of a tocsin bell suddenly cut in, 
frightened eyes and screaming mouths in distorted perspective 
will show panic far more alarmingly than a long shot of a 
frightened mob. 

This complementary, imagination-prodding impressionism 
is best suited to the spirit of the film because the moving and 
rapidly changing close-ups keep the spectator on the alert and 
seem to bring him progressively closer from the periphery to 
the centre of the action. He will wait with increasing tension 
for a glimpse of the whole and when at last he sees it — al- 
though this is not even always necessary — the picture will no 
longer be merely what it is. The spectator will see more in it 
than it actually shows; he will see into it all the preceding 


The position is quite different when the shots intend to con- 
vey certain impressions but not to present some objective 
reality. In such cases what matters is the subjective experience, 
for the picture is not meant to present reality, merely a passing 
mood. This is a similar degenerative phenomenon of bourgeois 
art as the merely journalist expressionism which has peeled 
facial expression off the face and physiognomy off the object, 
creating abstract, floating 'expressions' that no longer express 

Just as expressionism had its Caligari film, so subjectivist 
impressionism had its own classic (because the most completely 
realized) paradigm. It is no accident that this, too, was a Ger- 
man film, like The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. The Germans are 
more dogmatic in their art than others; they tried to put their 
theories consistently into practice and were not guided by the 
sensibility of instinctive good taste. 

The title of this German film was Phantom and it was a film 
version of a novel by Gerhart Hauptmann. It proposed to 
show the world as seen by an excited over-imaginative person 
who refuses to accept objective reality. Fantasies, fixed ideas, 
the delusions of persecution mania were projected on to the 


same plane as the ordinary pictures of everyday life and the 
fantastic seemed more real than reality, the boundaries be- 
tween the two were wiped away and finally reality, too, 
appeared as a shadowy vision. 

The impressionist style of Phantom was so sustained and 
consistent that in long stretches of the film no logical struc- 
ture of events could be discerned at all. Moods, snapshots, 
passed before the spectators' eyes in incoherent flashes just as 
they had floated past the inner eye of the drunken hero. The 
title of one section was actually The staggering sun'. It is 
impossible to relate its contents in rational terms. Streets of 
swaying houses swim past the eyes of the motionless hero. 
Flights of stairs rear themselves in front of him and then sink 
into the depths without his moving a muscle. For what is im- 
portant is not what happens — only impressions matter. A dia- 
mond necklace glitters in a shop window. . .A face emerges 
from behind a bunch of flowers ... A hand reaches out and 
grips another hand . . . The columns of a vast hall teeter drunk- 
enly . . . Car lamps flare up and are extinguished ... A revolver 
is lying on the ground . . . The 'meaningless' alignment of such 
details by editing is possible because angle and set-up show 
that they are not intended to be pictures of real things, hence 
we do not expect them to reproduce objective reality — we 
accept them as figments of the memory and imagination and 
there is nothing to prevent them from thus lining up into a row 
of pictures. 

This film shows only the things which made an impression 
on the hero. Nothing else is shown at all, only close-ups of 
disjointed moments, and we feel no real time-lapse in it and 
cannot tell whether we are seeing the history of years or of 


It often happens that the camera shows not the person or 
scene itself but only its image in a mirror, or a shadow of it 
on the wall. This may be a means of preparation, destined to 
increase the effect of what is coming; this applies especially in 
the case of shadows cast before, which by making us imagine 


the figure belonging to them, create in advance an appropriate 
atmosphere. Such indirect indications of something to come 
always contain some threatening, promising or curiosity- 
arousing mystery. No horror can be so horrible, no beauty so 
enchanting, if really seen, than the horror or enchantment 
suggested by its shadow. 

Often such indirect shots are used by directors to avoid 
effects which would be too crude. If the story requires a 
murder or some other act of revolting violence, some dreadful 
disaster or some nauseating spectacle, the vehicle is frequently 
an indirect set-up. Nor do film-makers like to show figures of 
great pathos in the always illusion-dispelling reality of the 
direct picture. If for instance the figure of Jesus appeared in 
a biblical film, directors of good taste usually avoided making 
him appear in the flesh and preferred to present him by means 
of reflections of his influence and activities. But if he did 
make a personal appearance, it was usually as a shadow 
thrown on to a wall. 

There are certain tragic scenes which would appear trivial 
in direct pictures and lose their tragic character. If a director 
shows these in indirect shots, he does not do so in order to 
avoid crude effects; on the contrary his object is to heighten 
the effect of some scene in danger of becoming banal. For in 
a direct shot we see only the scene itself; for instance a man 
about to shoot himself, a revolver in his hand, the hand raised 
to fire the shot. Even if something else is actually visible on the 
screen, the glaring nature of the scene blots it out. But if we 
see only a shadow of the scene on a wall, then we see the wall, 
the room of which it is a part and the physiognomy of the 
things which witness the deed. If we see something in a mirror, 
we see the mirror and its character together with the reflected 
image. Man and the scene he plays do not stand before us so 
nakedly, so without atmosphere. The real animation of the 
background increases the real animation of the scene itself. 

In a film I once saw there was a sheet of water reflecting 
the shore, the moon, clouds and other shadows of the night. 
Then another mirrored image appeared below. A woman 
leaned over the water and the mirrored image down there in 
the water fell upwards, towards the surface, towards the specta- 


tor. Then one heard a splash and saw the water in movement. 
We didn't see the woman herself, yet we knew what had hap- 
pened. Such indirect shots often have a subtle poetic effect, 
like an unspoken word, because they conjure up associations 
and avoid the often clumsy and imperfect rationality of calling 
a spade a spade. 


In The End of St Petersburg, one of Pudovkin's great 
silent films, he shows us a picture of the city twice. Both show 
the Neva embankment; the first is a reflection in the waters 
of the river, of the row of palaces along the bank. Houses, 
palaces, gardens standing on their heads, dreamlike, in an 
improbably tremulous restless picture. It is a dream of Venice, 
an illusion, a mirage. At the end of the film the city is no 
longer St Petersburg. Its name is Leningrad. The shot shows 
the same row of houses, but from a different angle. It is a 
frontal shot. Everything is standing squarely planted on the 
earth. The heavy stones throw heavy shadows and there is 
nothing tremulous about them. This is solid reality, no 
dream, no fleeting illusion, no mirage. These houses will stand 
for ever unshaken. This is what the picture shows, this is what 
the set-up says, quite unmistakably. 


A much-used device of microdramatics is to show a thing 
only in its effects, to show not the spectacle but the beholder. 
By this means we come to know not only what happened but 
also how someone reacted to it. A well-tried method in dia- 
logue is always to show the listener, never the speaker. In the 
sound film the speaker is always present anyway, or rather 
his voice is and the shot shows the double melody of the word 
and with it the facial expression it evokes. 


In one of the Soviet films there is a peasant revolt. We see 
the far bank of the Volga taken against the light at sunset. 


Pointed, thorny outlines of reed and bush pierce the air in 
the distance of the other bank. Suddenly the reeds and bushes 
seem to grow denser. New pointed, thorny silhouettes emerge 
from the ground in terrifying numbers. They cluster together 
and move away and we realize that what we saw were the 
straightened scythes of the insurgent peasant army. We see 
that they have 'grown out of the earth' like the reeds and the 
bushes. It is the set-up which made us see them in this way. 
Such a metaphor, written, would have been trivial — seen, it 
is of elemental power. 

In an American film two policemen drag a poor girl before 
the judge. The angle shows the policemen as two mighty 
terrifying, gigantic colossi who fill up the whole frame. Be- 
tween the two is a narrow slit, in which we see the thin, 
fragile little figure of the girl. This one picture alone fore- 
shadowed the sentence and the whole fate of the girl. 

The hidden pattern of angles, the physiognomy of set-ups 
touch off the association of our ideas and conjure up thoughts, 
moods and emotions, as metaphors do in poetry. 

In the immortal scene in Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin 
where dead and wounded are lying on the great flight of steps, 
the set-up shows bloodstained and tearstained human faces. 
Then it shows the Cossacks who fire on the crowd. But it 
shows only their boots. Not men, mere boots trample down 
those human faces. The boots have such oafish, stupid, base 
physiognomies that the spectator clenches his fists in anger. 
Such is the effect of picture-metaphors. 

Such picture-metaphors often have a satirical edge, as for 
instance in one of Pudovkin's films, where the council of 
war held by the bourgeois generals was shot at an angle which 
put the heads of the generals out of the picture and all one 
could see was a row of headless, much-bemedalled chests in 
military tunics. 

Another fine metaphor of this kind occurs in Eisenstein's 
October which shows St Petersburg in the first days of the 
revolution. The Winter Palace is being besieged. But we see 
few battle scenes. We see the first shot fired by the battleship 
Aurora and immediately afterwards we see the magnificent 
chandelier of the throne-room quiver. The set-up shows the 


chandelier in all its imperial brilliance, with thousands of 
glittering, sparkling, pendant crystals, irresistibly recalling a 
crown, an obvious symbol of the shining majesty of the Tsar. 
But it has quivered ! At first almost imperceptibly. But there 
is now no longer any need to show the cause of that quivering, 
the gunfire from the Aurora. The majestic chandelier begins 
to shiver slightly. When a thousand crystals swing and tremble 
and sparkle, they show such a superhuman, gigantic quaking 
that it seems to contain the panic of the whole Russian aristo- 
cracy and bourgeoisie. This single brilliant set-up of Tisse, the 
cameraman, is so expressive that there is no need for detailed 
battle scenes. The chandelier begins to swing. Nothing could 
increase the breath-taking tension. It swings out further and 
further — a crack shows in the ceiling, one hook holding the 
chandelier is loosened, the crack widens and then the whole 
magnificent, glittering contraption falls crashing to the ground. 
There is no need for any explanation of the symbolism here. 

In Battleship Potemkin small sailing-boats bring food 
from the shore to the ship. The matter itself is nothing parti- 
cular and the scene is simple enough. But the angle, looking 
down from the deck of the battle-cruiser, is so contrived that 
the whole frame is crammed with the bustling little boats and 
the bulging sails all seem to repeat the same encouraging ges- 
ture, the same call to action. 

Then the little boats reach the great ship and lower their 
sails, as is natural. Only they do it all at the same time and 
this simultaneity of the movement turns it into a gesture, the 
gesture of a ceremonial salute. As though the little boats had 
taken off their hats to the great ship. 

In such metaphoric sequences the objects photographed are 
real : the Cossack boots, the chandelier in the Winter Palace, 
the little sailing-boats are all real — the set-up merely gives 
them a deeper meaning, a second, symbolical significance, with- 
out depriving them of their own, real, normal meaning. The 
shot would be comprehensible, as the detail of an ordinary 
film scene, even to those who failed to grasp this second 

Herein lies the artistic value of such set-ups. They are not 
allegories which have only a symbolic meaning and the immed- 


iately perceived pictures of which are in themselves meaning- 
less. What would a cross in itself mean to us, if we were 
ignorant of its traditional significance, its connection with reli- 
gion, with Christianity? A question mark would mean nothing 
to us if we had not learned about it in school. No less meaning- 
less are the allegories constructed for the purpose of signify- 
ing something different from what they actually say; they have 
no reality in themselves. 


Set-up and angle should only reveal or stress the mood 
already present in the object or the scene, but never put in 
what is not inherent in it — that would be a lie. If the physiog- 
nomic atmosphere of the picture diverges from or exaggerates 
what is appropriate to the scene, the result is filmic bombast, 
Kitsch, rather like a trite bit of verse recited with great bathos 
or some banality accompanied by music dripping with senti- 
mentality. The camera may stress hidden meanings present in 
the object but cannot supply anything that is lacking in it, 
otherwise the picture will be like a dry factual report sobbed 
out in tones of utmost emotion. 

Even less genuine and sincere will the picture be if the 
director attunes the set in advance to reflect an emotional 
atmosphere. The camera ceases to be an artistic medium when 
the 'beauty' it should create is laid on in advance and put in 
front of its lens. The same often applies to lighting effects. 
Angle and set-up are authentic film instruments because in 
one way or another they show reality, and their product is 
after all a photograph. But a director who modifies his objects 
and tidies up reality before it is shot, robs the film of its claim 
to authenticity. 


Over-beautiful, picturesque shots are sometimes dangerous 
even if they are the result of good camera work alone. Their 
over-perfect composition, their self-sufficient closed harmony 
may lend them a static, painting-like character and thereby 


lift them out of the dynamic stream of the action. Such beauty 
has its own centre of gravity, its own frame and does not 
reach beyond itself to the preceding and the subsequent. 'Je 
hais le mouvement qui deplace les lignes, wrote Baudelaire in 
his sonnet on beauty. But the film is art in motion. 


The film is faced with a peculiar problem if it has to repro- 
duce not nature but an already existing work of art, a paint- 
ing, a sculpture, a puppet play, i.e. when the camera merely 
copies what a painter or sculptor or carver has already created 
as a work of art. But if such works of art are presented as a 
visual experience of a character in the film, from the angle, 
both external and internal, from which the character views 
them, then the cameraman is confronted with a very intricate 
and interesting task. 

The terrifying Asiatic Gothic of the medieval icons photo- 
graphed in Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible shows not only 
already existing works of art but the savage superstitions and 
visions of a tormented people. When in Alexander Korda's 
Lady Hamilton the prospective husband leads the poor ignor- 
ant girl past all the accumulated works of art in his mansion, 
the camera shows not only works of art but the good taste 
and culture of a superior social environment, which are des- 
tined to have a decisive influence on the heroine and thus 
have an important dramaturgic function. 

Works of art may thus play a part in front of the camera, 
reverting, as it were, to the state of raw material, imposing 
on the camera the difficult task of adding to the given expres- 
sion of the object a further, secondary expression by means of 
angles and set-ups. This secondary expression is that of the 
effect made on the spectator. In fact a gifted cameraman can 
show a picture or sculpture in the same way as an orchestra 
conductor can give voice to a musical score. In such produc- 
tions two artistic personalities are merged in one another. 



This duality, resulting from the artistic re-creation of an 
already existing work of art, is strikingly manifested in the 
transition of one style into the other. If the object is the furni- 
ture of a room, for instance, all the austere simplicity of the 
directoire style will be of no avail if the camera work is baroque. 
What is decisive is not the style of the object but of the shot. 
The theme may be an ancient Greek temple but the angle 
may give it a Gothic character if the cameraman pleases. 

Similar things may be observed in other arts. In the Musee 
Guimet in Paris there is a china tea-service made in a Chinese 
pottery for the Versailles court of the king of France. The 
simon-pure rococo designs of the decorations were sent out to 
China where pastoral scenes between French marquis and mar- 
quises were conscientiously copied on the Chinese tea-cups. 
Nevertheless the whole is so Chinese in character that looking 
at the Versailles lords and ladies from the distance of a few 
yards, one might easily take them for Chinese mandarins or 
Chinese empresses. The Chinese brushwork and manner re- 
styled the French rococo designs. 

The inverse example of Dresden china is well known. The 
traditional ancient Chinese designs acquired a comfortable 
corpulent burgher character. And the last miracle performed 
by Claude Monet in his old age, and which cost him his eye- 
sight — the 'Notre-Dame in the Sunlight' — transformed the 
medieval Gothic of Notre-Dame into the luminous thicket of 
a lushly blossoming jungle. That was how the Gothic cathedral 
looked to the French impressionist whose aim was to depict 
life as he saw it. 

An excellent Japanese film Shadows of the Yoshiwara was 
refreshingly pure in style, not because the buildings and cos- 
tumes were authentic, but because the style of the shots, 01 
angles and set-ups had the quality of old Japanese wood-cuts. 


The great historical styles which were not hatched out in 
some workshop or studio but which were produced slowly and 


unconsciously by the ideologies, tastes and life-rhythm of 
epochs and societies — such great historical styles appear of one 
piece and logical only from the distance of a historical per- 
spective, never in their own day. The Italian artists of the 
quattrocento had no idea that they were initiating a great 
new style, that of the Renaissance — they simply and modestly 
strove to imitate ancient Greek and Roman art. Consciousness 
of style develops slower than style itself and is mostly a retro- 
spective recognition only. 

One can often hear complaints nowadays that our age has 
no such well-defined style as for instance Gothic or Bieder- 
meier. There are many reasons for this. But we know that the 
creators of these styles in their own time knew only fashions 
and not styles. Style was not consciously recognized as such in 
its own time. There is no doubt that our own epoch also has 
its own distinctive style which manifests itself in our tastes, 
way of life, clothes and manners, a style the visual unity and 
consistence of which we cannot see in real life, though we may 
see it in a film if we make a point of doing so. For the film, 
in reproducing with photographic fidelity the visual appear- 
ance of our life, concentrates its many forms into one picture 
in which the common traits that constitute a style can become 
manifest if angle and set-up stress them sufficiently. If the 
cameraman feels the style of our time, his films will tend to 
render us conscious of it and will thus contribute essentially 
to the emergence of such a style. 

If the spirit of the times is reflected in the visual forms of 
our life and art, the film will reflect that. The film creates no 
primary forms, but by means of angle and set-up gives a live 
interpretation of the given forms of reality. It is for this reason 
that it can render visible their common traits and the laws 
that govern them. Films date very quickly. Five-year-old films 
already have a faintly historical tang — probably because they 
are more topical and time-bound than any other art. 



I dislike this word and think the French expression 
'montage' far more adequate and expressive, for it means 
'assembly' and that is really what happens in editing. The 
shots are assembled by the editor in a pre-determined order, 
in such a way as to produce by the very sequence of frames a 
certain intended effect, much as the fitter assembles the parts 
of a machine so as to turn these disjointed parts into a power- 
producing, work-performing machine. 

The most expressive set-up is not enough to bring on to the 
screen every significance of the object. This can be achieved 
in the last instance only by the combination of shots, their 
assembly in sequence, their fitting into the unity of a higher 
organism. The last process in creative film-making is the crown- 
ing job of editing. 

The meaning of a coloured patch in a painting can be 
gathered only from the contemplation of the picture as a 
whole. The meaning of a single note in a tune, the meaning 
of a single word in a sentence manifests itself only through 
the whole. The same applies to the position and role of the 
single shot in the totality of the film. 

The single shots are saturated with the tension of a latent 
meaning which is released like an electric spark when the 
next shot is joined to it. Of course a shot can have a meaning 
and significance in itself even without being joined to another. 
A smile is a smile, even if seen in an isolated shot. But what 
this smile refers to, what has evoked it, what is its effect and 
dramatic significance — all this can emerge only from the pre- 
ceding and following shots. 




Montage is the association of ideas rendered visual; it gives 
the single shots their ultimate meaning, if for no other reason, 
because the spectator presupposes that in the sequence of 
pictures that pass before his eyes there is an intentional pre- 
determination and interpretation. This consciousness, this con- 
fidence that we are seeing the work of a creative intention and 
purpose, not a number of pictures thrown and stuck together 
by chance, is a psychological precondition of film-watching 
and we always expect, presuppose and search for meaning in 
every film we see. 

This is a basic, irresistible intellectual requirement of the 
spectator and it operates even if by some reason or other the 
film seen is really merely a chance collection of pictures stuck 
together without rhyme or reason. Seeking a meaning is a 
fundamental function of human consciousness and nothing is 
more difficult than to accept with complete passivity meaning- 
less, purely accidental phenomena. Our mechanism of idea 
association and our imagination will always tend to put some 
meaning into such a meaningless conglomeration, even though 
perhaps only in play. 

It is for this reason that montage can not only produce 
poetry — it can also fake and falsify things more completely 
than any other human means of expression. Here is an amus- 
ing example: 


Long ago, when Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin was 
a triumphant world success, a Scandinavian distributor also 
wanted to buy it. The censorship thought the film too revolu- 
tionary, but the distributor was reluctant to forgo the profits 
he was certain of making with this film. So he asked permis- 
sion to re-edit the film very slightly. One condition of the 
sale was that nothing was to be added or taken away. The 
Scandinavian distributor had no objection to this clause — all 
he wanted was to lift a single scene from its place in the film 
and insert it in another place. Eisenstein wanted to know which 


scene was to go where. As those who have seen this film will 
know, the film begins with scenes showing how the officers ill- 
treat the sailors, and how the meat served out to the men is 
crawling with maggots. When the men respectfully protest, 
their spokesmen are seized and sentenced to death by drum- 
head court-martial. All hands are ordered on deck to witness 
the execution, the condemned men are brought out, a firing 
squad marches in — but at the last moment the firing squad 
turn their rifles against the officers. Mutiny. Fighting on the 
ship, fighting ashore. The rest of the fleet are ordered to quell 
the mutiny, but the crews of the other warships allow the 
mutineers to escape with their ship. Such is the sequence in 
the original film. 

All the Scandinavian wanted was to take out the court- 
martial and execution sequence, making it appear that the 
sailors had mutinied and shot their officers or flung them into 
the sea, not because their mates were to be put to death, but 
because there had been maggots in the food. After this the 
film was to proceed unimpaired until the end, when the rest 
of the fleet appears. And now the execution scene was to be 
cut in, so that instead of the mutineers steaming away un- 
defeated to Rumania (as they actually did in reality) they 
would appear to have been shot. The connection between sav- 
age vindictive death-sentence and the mutiny, the refusal of 
the firing squad to fire on their mates — all this would have 
been lost — although not actually omitted — so that the conclu- 
sion would have been : there was an unmotivated mutiny in the 
ship, the officers quickly get the situation in hand, the muti- 
neers get their well-deserved punishment and serve them jolly 
well right too ! And this by merely transposing a single scene ! 
Not a shot omitted, not a title changed — just one scene shifted. 
Such is the power of the scissors. 


Such things could of course happen only to silent films. For 
pictures have no tenses. They show only the present — they 
cannot express either a past or a future tense. In a picture 
itself there is nothing that would compellingly and precisely 


indicate the reasons for the picture being what it is. In a film 
scene we see only what is happening before our eyes. Why 
things happen as they do, of what they are the result — these 
are questions to which a thousand different answers could be 
given in the silent film. 

The talkie, on the contrary, has words, words which may 
refer to past or future, which have a logic that determines 
the place of each scene in the time-sequence of events. 


The scenes of a film, just like the scenes of a stage play, are 
enacted before our eyes, that is, in real time. The photo- 
graphed picture of a scene cannot last either a longer or a 
shorter time when projected on to the screen, than the scene it- 
self had lasted. On the stage as much time as the author pleases 
may elapse between the acts, while the curtain is down. There 
are plays in which a century elapses between two acts. But 
film scenes are not separated from each other by curtains or 
intervals. Nevertheless the lapse of time must be conveyed, a 
time-perspective given. How is this done? 

If the film wants to make us feel that time has elapsed 
between two scenes, it interpolates between these two scenes 
another scene enacted in some other place. When we return to 
the former place, time has elapsed. But how much time has 
elapsed can never be ascertained from the scene itself, unless 
one of the characters tells us. 


In an epic, a drama, or a film, time is just as much a theme 
for a work of art as is action, characterization, or psycho- 
logical analysis. The reason for this is that time belongs to all 
of them as an organic component. There can be no story the 
course, significance and effect of which did not depend on the 
amount of time it takes up. If an event occurs twice — once 
slowly and once quickly, then it is no longer the same event. 
An explosion differs from a quiet chemical reaction only in 
that it is a more rapid process. One speed may take life, 


another speed give it. A slowly maturing action and a sud- 
denly provoked action have widely differing psychological 
implications. In other words, time is an inalienable element 
of all human manifestations. Apart from this, the passing of 
time is in itself one of the deepest experiences of mortal man 
and an eternal theme of his poetry. 

But in epic and dramatic works of art time as an experience 
cannot be measured by days or hours or minutes. It must be 
shown in perspective, in the same way as the characters, who 
also do not move in real space. The time effect is as much an 
illusion as is the space effect. 

The film produces a most interesting link between time 
effect and space effect; so interesting, indeed, that it merits a 
closer analysis. Here is a fact corroborated by every exper- 
ience: as has been already said, the film inserts a lapse of 
time between two scenes by means of cutting in a scene enacted 
in a different place. The experience is that the farther away the 
site of the inserted scene is from the site of the scenes between 
which it is inserted, the more time we will feel to have elapsed. 
If something happens in a room, then something else in the 
anteroom opening into it and then something in the same room 
a second time, we will feel that only a few minutes have 
elapsed and the scene in the room can go on straight away. 
We feel no jolt in time. But if the scene inserted between two 
scenes enacted in the same room leads us to Africa or Austra- 
lia, then the same scene cannot be simply continued in the 
same room, because the spectator will feel that much time 
must have elapsed, even if the real duration of the inter- 
polated distant scene is by no means longer than that of the 
similarly interpolated ante-room scene mentioned before. 


It is difficult to avoid the use of the interpolated-scene tech- 
nique and this renders it necessary to make several threads of 
action run parallel to one another. A film sometimes shows 
two or three of these parallel actions, which are plaited to- 
gether into a sort of visual fugue by making each of them 
appear as 'interpolated scenes' in each of the others. But this 


method is not the only means the film possesses for the presen- 
tation of the lapse of time and of these more will be said later. 
At all events the director, when he arranges the sequence of 
shots and determines their length, has to consider not only 
the contents but also the physiognomy and subtlest atmosphere 
of the neighbouring shots. He must not only see that a physical 
gesture begun in one shot should be continued without inter- 
ruption in the different set-up of the next shot — mental move- 
ments must also flow smoothly from shot to shot — if they con- 
tinue at all. 


Even the simplest narrative editing, which has no other pur- 
pose than to collate the shots into a sequence which makes the 
story clearly comprehensible — that it, a mere arranging the 
shots in their logical order — is already to some extent artistic 
creation. If everything the film-makers wanted us to know were 
already visible in the separate shots, such simple aligning, 
story-telling editing would have nothing more of its own to 
add. In this case no use would have been made of the great 
power, inherent in the editor's scissors to induce associations 
of ideas and to help us understand the story of the film. Edit- 
ing can, however, be genuinely creative and convey to us some- 
thing that cannot be seen on any of the shots themselves. 

A simple example : We see someone leave a room. Then we 
see the room in disorder, showing the traces of a struggle. 
Then a close-up — the back of a chair with blood dripping 
from it. This would be sufficient. There would be no need for 
us to see the struggle or the victim. We would guess it all. 
The editing would have given us the clue. 


This technique of idea-associative montage was developed to 
a very high level in the days of the silent film. It provided very 
subtle films for a public of greater visual culture and greater 
sensibility. We learnt to notice and interpret the slightest 
details and relate them to each other. Objects not shown but 


merely suggested have the same sort of deeper effect as has 
the unspoken word. Good editing not only interprets a scene 
by aligning visual images — it also starts trains of ideas in 
us and gives them a definite direction. In this case the film 
only suggests, but does not show, the inner sequence of the 
spectators' idea-associations. But the film can also throw on to 
the screen a whole sequence of such ideas — associations, actu- 
ally showing the pictures which follow each other in the mind 
and lead from one thought to the next. In such films we can 
see a sort of inner film of associations running within the 
human consciousness. 


The earliest silent films already made use of this device. 
Usually the pictures were soft focused, to indicate that here 
was not reality, but merely something passing through the 
memory of the character and seen with his inner eye. By this 
naive device the earlier films often presented to the spectator 
some episode of the past which had not been shown but know- 
ledge of which was required in order to understand the story. 
Of course such primitive flashbacks could never reproduce a 
psychological process. 

Of a quite different nature are the flashbacks which Ermler 
used in his film Ruins of an Empire. The hero is a soldier who 
has lost his memory in the first world war, and with it his 
knowledge of himself. The film showed the train of ideas 
which restored his memory, his knowledge of himself and of 
the world. The spectator was made to follow a train of ideas 
of the sort psycho-analysis might have brought to light in a 
similar case. But no words could express such a train of ideas 
as adequately as pictures, because the rational, conceptual 
nature of words bars them from conveying the irrational cor- 
relation of such inner pictures. Further, the speed at which 
the pictures follow each other in the film can reproduce the 
original speed of this process of idea-association. The written 
or spoken word is always much slower than the inner rhythm 
of idea-association. 

Ermler's soldier sees a sewing-machine and hears it rattle. 


The rattle suddenly quickens and grows louder. Now it is the 
rattling of a machine-gun. Strange tatters of visions, a mosaic 
of bits and pieces surge up, one bringing up the other by force 
of some formal or tonal similarity. Nevertheless the string of 
associations runs in a definite direction. A rubble of war 
memories — wheels of a gun . . . sewing-machine needle . . . 
bayonet . . . convulsively gripping hands . . . The sequence 
irresistibly carries along the soldier's unconsciousness and 
drives him nearer to the breaking-point, to that spectacle of 
horror which made him lose memory and consciousness, in 
order that he may find himself again and continue his inter- 
rupted existence. 

This was an example of how the film can show an inner 
picture-sequence of associations, reproduce a mental process. 
Now I would like to quote an example of the opposite process, 
when the sequence shown in the film does not reproduce the 
chain of associations in pictures, but suggests it, starts it off 
and directs it into a definite channel. By this means the film 
induces in the spectators thoughts and emotions it need not 
itself explicitly express. 


Griffith already used this method. For instance he showed 
in one of his films how the yellow press can and does ruin the 
reputation of a woman. He showed the immense technical 
plant of a newspaper with a world-wide circulation. The 
immense machines break into the shots like tanks advancing 
to the attack. This striking resemblance grows into a simile, 
into a train of associations. The rotaries throw out the papers 
like quick-firing guns their shells. This simile is evoked by the 
frightened face of the woman, cut in between the huge 
machines. Our train of ideas is already under way and the 
associations suggested by the montage endow the printing 
machines with wicked, malicious faces. The bundles of news- 
papers running towards us on the creepers seem an irresistible 
avalanche which finally buries the terrified helpless victim — 
whom we see again and again, cut in between the raving 
machines, until at last the woman is lying limp under the 


rollers of the rotary. Here the montage has created a metaphor. 
When the battle-cruiser Potemkin steams into its last fight, 
what we see is not a great ship ploughing up the water into 
foam — we see what is happening inside it, in its heart. We 
see big close-ups of the engines, their wheels and cranks cross- 
cut with big close-ups of the sailors' faces. Such repeated 
juxtaposition compels comparison. A visual parallel inevitably 
conjures up a parallel in the mind. The angry, resolute faces of 
the sailors transfer their own expression to the wheels and 
cranks. Yes, they are fighting side by side in a common 
struggle. An almost human consciousness seems expressed in 
the physiognomy of the throbbing, quivering machines as they 
revolve at full-speed and the panting of the valves, the whirl- 
ing of the flywheels seem the determined gestures of 'Comrade 


Very deep subconscious idea-associations can emerge or be 
touched off by such editing. Sometimes the picture of a land- 
scape is enough to conjure up the memory of a face or to 
characterize a situation. Such effects are certainly not 'literary', 
for no words can convey this non-rational correlation of shapes 
and images which takes place in our subconscious mind. 

In Pudovkin's film Mother the first revolutionary demon- 
stration of workers passes along the streets in spring, accom- 
panied by a parallel sequence of melting snow-water which 
is first only a trickle, then a rivulet, a torrent, a raging flood. 
The streaming of the waters is time and again cut into the 
pictures of the demonstration and the parallel pictures are 
inevitably related to each other by the spectator. The spring 
waters glitter in the sun like a bright hope and the same hope 
shines in the workers' eyes. The faces of the workers, radiant 
with faith and expectation, are reflected in the sunlit puddles. 
Such a correlation of pictures is an inevitable, automatic pro- 
cess. Just as the contact of electrically charged objects evokes a 
spark, so the contact between pictures in a film evokes a 
mutually interpreting associative process, whether the direc- 
tor wishes this or not. This is an inherent power which the 


film-maker, if he is an artist, must hold firmly in his grip, 
direct and shape according to his needs. 


In Lupu Pieck's film New Year's Eve, a pioneer film in its 
time, shots of a stormy sea tossing with varied intensity were 
cut in between the scenes. By a parallel between the dramatic 
storms and oceanic storms he wanted to increase the rhythmic 
and emotional effects of his scenes. Here he made that very 
mistake of which mention was made in the paragraph relating 
to allegoric set-up. Eisenstein's Cossack boots and Winter 
Palace chandelier were not invented merely for the sake of a 
simile and stuck into the film. They were real elements of the 
film story and only their specific presentation made them 
point to something beyond their own selves and thus turned 
them into symbols. And in Pudovkin's Mother the spring 
waters really gurgle and splash around the feet of the demon- 
strating workers, and are given a metaphoric significance only 
by dint of the montage. But Lupu Pieck's film story has 
nothing to do with the sea. He cut the shots of a stormy sea 
into urban scenes merely for the sake of the parallel, the 
simile; it was not some organic part of the film story that was 
raised to symbolic significance, but an allegory brought from 
outside was, as it were, stuck on to the film. 


On the other hand it sometimes happens that the director 
tries to illustrate a literary metaphor simply by means of mon- 
tage. In one of Eisenstein's films two old-world Russian 
peasants want to divide up a heritage and they do so by saw- 
ing in two the hut which constitutes this heritage. The wife 
of one of them sadly watches the murderous work of the saw. 
A big close-up of the saw and the big close-up of the woman's 
face alternate so rapidly in repeated short shots that finally 
the spectator feels — because he actually almost sees it — as 
though the saw was sawing through the woman's heart. It is 
obvious here that a constructed literary picture has been trans- 
lated into a visual image. 



Associations of ideas induced by montage can evoke not 
only emotions and create an atmosphere — they can also pro- 
duce in us definite thoughts, logical deductions and conclu- 

In Pudovkin's The End of St Petersburg we see cross-cut 
shots of battlefields and of the stock exchange. Stock exchange, 
battlefield, stock exchange, battlefield, stock exchange, battle- 
field. On the stock exchange a blackboard shows how the 
quotations are rising. On the battlefield the soldiers are fall- 
ing. Stocks rising, Soldiers falling. Stocks rising. Soldiers fall- 
ing. It is impossible for the spectator not to see a causal con- 
nection between the two and this is of course what the direc- 
tor wants. The spectator who sees a connection between the 
two sequences, will also know the meaning of this connection : 
his visual impression will turn into political understanding. 


But such shots, shown in parallel, are still the real images of 
actual reality and are real scenes pertinent to the story of the 
film. Only the placing of them thus side by side puts into them 
an ulterior meaning, a political significance. Only this gives 
them their artistic justification and their sensual realism. 

Directors sometimes attempt, however, to use the sequences 
of a film for the communication of thoughts, as a sort of hiero- 
glyphic picture-writing, in which the pictures mean something 
but have no content of their own. They are like the pictures 
in a rebus; they mean something and the spectator must guess 
what it is, but in themselves, as pictures, they present no 

When in Eisenstein's October a statue falls from its pedes- 
tal, this is intended to signify that the power of the Tsar has 
been overthrown. If the pieces were to unite again, this would 
mean the restoration of that power. These are picture puzzles, 
not artistic effects. Eisenstein, who was perhaps the greatest 
master of sensuous picture effects that transcended the sphere 
of reason, unfortunately often fell a victim to the mistaken 

' Nanook of the North ': The extra social-nature of the ice-pack as a social 


Rin-Tin-Tin in ' Jaws of Steel.' 

New kinds of characters were made possible by the technical possibilities of 
the film. 

Chaplin and Jackie Coogan in ' The Kid.' 


The script-writers destroyed a growing art when they gave speech to the 
great mutes. 

Lilian Gish in ' Broken Blossoms.' 

Falconetti in ' The Passion of Joan of Arc' 
The consciousness of space in the close-up. 
' Battleship Potemkin.' 



Max Linder: The film made a new kind of slapstick possible. 

Sessue Hayakawa: The ' dead-pan ' countenance which showed neither 
feeling nor passion. 


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' II Sole Sorge Ancora. 

The change in trend which substituted neo-naturalism for the sentimentality 
of Hollywood. 

' Vivere in Pace.' 


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Greta Garbo in ' Anna Karenina ': Her beauty bears the stamp of sorrow 
and loneliness. 


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The Great Waltz.' 

Through the camera the audience can move in the opulence and culture of 
other periods, other social environments. 

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Berlin ': The characterization of a city through montage and rhythm. 

' Mother.' 

Eyes sharpened by revolutionary struggle saw more than just the difference 
between ' rich ' and ' poor.' 

' Arsenal. 

' Die Letzte Nacht 

Each shot must be a properly composed picture. 

' The Fall of the House of Usher.' 

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' Lenin in October.' 

A contrast in the treatment of suspense and battle. 

' The Thirteen.' 



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' Monsieur Verdoux ': The Charlie mask which gagged Chaplin for so 
long discarded at last. 

' Phillips Radio '; The mechanical monsters of the industrial age show their 

' Sous les Touts de Paris ': The visual culture of the ' avant-garde ' is 
brought into the commercial film. 

Felix Lends a Hand ': Here the line reached the boundaries which enclose 
;raphic art. 




' Boule de Suif ': The silence of this film was intentional and deliberately 

' The Street ': The picture of a city reflected through the inner vision of a 
young man. 

Baltic Deputy ': A demonstration of the unspoken soliloquy. 

' The Lady in the Lake ': The film narrated in the first person brought 
to its logical conclusion. 

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idea that the world of purely conceptual thinking could also 
be conquered by film art. 

This is not to say that the art of the film cannot convey 
thoughts or achieve effects through thought. But it must not 
merely suggest them, it must express them explicitly, in 
film-language of course. The film can evoke thoughts in the 
spectator, but must not project on to the screen ready-made 
thought-symbols, ideograms which have definite, known con- 
ventional meanings, like a question mark or exclamation 
point, a cross or swastika; for these would be merely a primi- 
tive picture-writing, hieroglyphs, that would be less convenient 
than our alphabet and certainly not art. 


The editing gives the film narrative its style, speed and 
rhythm. It may flow on calmly, with long scenes played out 
to the end, with landscapes and settings only meant to be 
looked at, with weighty, slow-moving picture material. But it 
can also dart along with the swift rush of short-cropped detail 
shots. The dramatic rhythm of the story is transposed into 
visual picture-rhythm and the external, formal rhythm steps 
up the speed of the internal drama. The movement of the shots 
has the same visual effect as the gesturing of a narrator. 

This short-shot rapid montage as expressive rhythm was 
much used by the early silent Soviet film. It often effectively 
conveyed the feverish pace of revolutionary happenings. Such 
accelerated cutting, in which the shots flash past our eyes in 
seconds is possible only if we are able to perceive and identify 
the objects depicted on them. This we are able to do only 
thanks to our fully developed new filmic culture, our rapidly 
reacting sensibility for things filmic. And such rapid cutting 
has its own dangers: if it is not the expression of a racing 
internal rhythm, it easily becomes an empty formality, a banal 
technical trick. 


These are quite independent of each other, and very subtle 



effects can be achieved by various combinations of the speed 
of action and the speed of cutting. An instance is the picture of 
a race. Long shots of long duration show the whole field. The 
racing horses or cars run at highest speed, but the cutting is 
leisurely. But a director who knows his job will liven up the 
last few seconds of the finish with quickened cutting. The 
objective pace of the competitors in the race has not changed 
but in these last few moments the picture seems to have 
stopped, in order that each detail of the action may be visually 
dissected as it were. This increases the tension. The film may 
have shown a race of a thousand yards in a short sequence last- 
ing five seconds and then give the struggle on the last hundred 
yards, in twenty rapidly changing close-ups, between competi- 
tors running neck and neck, panting, now gaining, now losing 
a few inches until at last they reach the goal. These twenty 
shots may last, say, forty seconds, that is, longer in real time 
than the sequence showing the first nine hundred yards of the 
race. Nevertheless we feel it to be shorter, our time-perspective 
will tell us that we have seen only a short minute, magnified 
as though under a time-microscope. 

The scene will appear to have been shortened by the direc- 
tor. For it is only the last fifty yards of the race that we are 
seeing all the time. But the pace of the cutting has increased. 
Thus three kinds of time have appeared in this film : the real 
duration of the race; the pictured time and time-illusion of the 
scene shown in the film; the real running time of the film strip 
carrying the close-ups collated by cutting. Such films provide 
a rich material for research for psychologists who might like 
to study time-sense. 


The tension of dramatic scenes may be increased by using 
the time-honoured device of ritardando at the moment of the 
climax. But only the scene is slowed down, possibly even 
stopped altogether for a moment. Close-up shots of the scene 
may on the other hand be speeded up, rushed along in a 
galloping tempo in order that the external rhythm of the pic- 


ture movement may convey to us the internal storms, the 
quiverings of internal tension. One may think in this connec- 
tion of Lupu Pieck's gangsters, locked up in the strongroom 
of a bank which has been mined. The scene is stationary, the 
men are waiting frozenly for the explosion to occur. But a 
galloping sequence of rapidly changing close-ups makes us 
feel the storm raging in the motionless men. Thus the cutting 
may convey things that are invisible and hence cannot be 

To spread out the last moment so that it lasts almost 
through a whole act, has been the ambition of many a master 
of the film. The axe is raised, the fuse is lit and then . . . what 
happens between two battings of an eyelid? A rushing series 
of shots shows the feverish working of human consciousness. 


The art of cutting consists in the first place in determining 
the length of each shot. If a shot is a little too long or too 
short, it can decisively change the effect of the picture, just 
as a tune is completely changed if a tone is pushed up or down 
half an interval. 

The 'length' of a shot can of course be measured only on 
the film strip. On the screen we can measure only its duration. 
And the length or shortness of that is not merely a question of 
visual rhythm, for the meaning and content of a scene seen on 
the screen is influenced by its duration. We can for instance 
shorten the footage of a film and yet make it appear to be 
dragging. The internal speed of a shot is independent of its 
length in feet, its duration in seconds. The inner movement 
is often given by just those detail shots which if omitted would 
reduce the footage of the scene, but make it nevertheless more 
lengthy. If I show an ant-heap in a long shot on six feet of 
film, it will be long and boring, but if I show the details of the 
internal life of an ant-heap in close-ups, it will not be boring 
even on fifty feet. 

In the film every occurrence is a little like this ant-heap : it 
is made interesting and exciting by close-ups of detail and 
rhythm of cutting. A synopsis of a good novel is always less 


interesting than the novel itself and a long duel between two 
good swordsmen more exciting than the sudden stab of a 

In the cinematic presentation of events only the visible 
movement of the smallest particles of it can give a lively 
tempo. The sentences of a narrative can tell the whole story 
and at the same time refer to a thousand details. But the pic- 
ture either shows the whole, glossing over the details, or 
shows close-ups in which the whole is never visible but only 
pieced together in the cutting. 

In the old silent film Vanina, previously mentioned, 
in which Asta Nielsen gave such a classic exhibition of silent 
speech, there is another remarkable scene. Asta has rescued 
her condemned lover from the death cell, but the fugitives are 
still running along the winding passages of the prison. These 
passages seem endless. But their monotonous length is not bor- 
ing — on the contrary, it is most exciting, because it is precisely 
this monotonous length that gives them their menacing phy- 
siognomy. For we know that the fugitives have only seconds in 
which to make good their escape — and every door they open, 
as a last forlorn hope, leads not out into the open, to liberty, 
but into another long, grim passage. We feel the passing of 
the time as the running out of the sands of their lives. Each 
new passage faces them with a merciless, inexorable fate. We 
already know that they are lost. But they are still running, 
they have not yet been caught. Perhaps after all . . . Behind 
them is death. The longer the scene lasts, the greater the ner- 
vous tension. 


The sound film brought new laws of rhythm in its train. 
Words have a real acoustic rhythm which cannot be slowed 
down or speeded up by any illusion-creating technique without 
changing the meaning or dramaturgic significance of the 
words. Sound films also have silent scenes which have their 
own laws of rhythm. 



An important artistic part may be played by a kind of 
editing which has little to do with the dramaturgic aspect of 
the contents of the film. It does not increase the tension of 
sequences, does not express internal, emotional storms. It has 
merely formal, musical, decorative significance. But this is a 
great deal. 

Shots of landscapes, buildings, interiors can by cutting be 
given a certain irrational interrelation, like melodies in a good 
symphonic structure. Such musical or decorative rhythm may 
play an important part if combined with dramatic content. 
But it is dwarfed into nothingness if the attempt is made to 
separate it and endow it with independent life. The avant- 
gardistes and futurists made the mistake of thinking that such 
rhythms can become independent artistic means of expression 
of a special kind. Experiments in this direction led to abstrac- 
tions such as were already mentioned in connection with sym- 
bolic angles and cutting. 

The shots in themselves lose their primary significance when 
they serve as material for rhythmic effects. 

What have the subtle changes and forms of rhythm in Wal- 
ter Ruttmann's Berlin in common with the trams shown in 
the film? What have the shots of Montmartre streets in Caval- 
canti's Rien que les heures in common with the legato-staccato 
of his cutting? From the viewpoint of rhythm these features 
are merely carriers of light and shadow, of form and move- 
ment. They are no longer objects at all. The visual music of 
the montage is played in a separate sphere that is parallel to 
the content. 

Shots can be made to appear long or short not only through 
the rhythm but also as a result of what they depict. In editing, 
not only the content but the shape of shots must often be 
taken into account. Lines of direction and movement are 
usually brought into relation with one another. One of the 
devices used in editing is to bring details together according 
to the resemblance or contrast of their shapes. Narrow, per- 


pendicular towers and factory chimneys may be cross-cut 
with broad, heavy images, or the similarity of forms stressed 
even more by matching round shapes with round shapes, 
curved lines with curved lines. The contents do not always 
lend themselves to such combinations. The formalists of the 
'absolute' film were not interested in contents at all and even 
Eisenstein, in his film The Old and the New (or The General 
Line) cut a cricket and a reaping-machine together four con- 
secutive times, because 'they had the same line'. Such a system 
of editing is only concerned with decorative features and 
nothing else; it shows the world depicted as a mobile ornament. 


Cutting is like telling a story. The author shows us things as 
he sees them. But sometimes he does not want to show things 
from his own viewpoint, his own angle of vision, and the result 
is a subjective, 'identifying' cut. Not only set-ups and angles 
in the whole sequence are shown as one of the characters 
in the film would see them. The hero starts out and the camera 
follows. We see the course of events with the eyes of one of 
the characters. Just as some novels are narrated in the first 
person, so the film shows its story in the first person. This 
technique was brought to its logical conclusion in The Lady 
in the Lake. It is not the objects which parade in front of the 
spectator — the spectator proceeds past the objects, in com- 
pany with the character depicted; in such cases the editing 
shows the road of the hero as well. If the film shows a land- 
scape as, say, a wayfarer in the film would see it, then the 
landscape appears as the subjective experience of a human 
being, in the same order and rhythm. Such a film can be 
lyrical to a high degree, even if it presents objective, 'docu- 
mentary', material. 


Because in such films the rhythm of the walk of the way- 
farer who looks at the landscape plays a very important part 
and may determine the entire atmosphere of the scene, let us 


discuss walking as a most expressive and quite specific cine- 
matic gesture. 

There is scarcely a more characteristic and expressive ges- 
ture than the walk, if for no other reason because mostly it is 
not a consciously expressive movement. It can of course be 
made conscious and people often intentionally show dignity, 
resolution, modesty or coquetry in their gait. Gait can lie and 
dissemble too. If a person is embarrassed by being observed, 
it will show in his walk first of all. As the saying goes he 
'would not know which foot to put forward first'. Feet give 
away a great deal. 

Actors on the stage rarely have an opportunity to use the 
walk as a characteristic gesture, because of the lack of space. 
That is why Erwin Piscator had the idea of using a conveyor 
strip on his stage, so that the actor, moving in an inverse 
direction to the strip would walk, while remaining in the same 
spot and use the walk for characterization. Nevertheless it is 
only the film that can really exhaust all the expressive possibili- 
ties of the walk, for in the film there is none= of the disturbing 
element brought in by the strange and unnatural walking-and- 
yet-remaining-in-the-same-place of Piscator 's stage device. 

In preparing the atmosphere for the decisive scene, a good 
director will show whether the hero is approaching the scene 
of the impending climax in anticipation of what is to come 
or is on the contrary 'unconscious of his doom'. Often there is 
no need even to show what happened— all that needs to be 
shown is the hero coming back from the scene of the climac- 
teric event. The hero's walk will reveal what happened; his 
walk will be a confession and a soliloquy expressing his 
reaction to the scene just experienced, more completely and 
more sincerely than if he had been shown on the spot itself. 

There are walks which are not purposeful movements in a 
certain direction. In such cases the person is not going some- 
where, his legs are not means of transport but subconscious 
means of expression betraying a certain state of mind. The 
silent film often used this sort of walk as a kind of visual 
soliloquy. It was called a 'passage' and many thought it a bit 
of superfluous padding. Sometimes it may have been so, but 
very often it was quite the reverse. For in the action itself, be 


it concerned with love or with fighting or other things, the 
actors have to make many gestures which have a purely utili- 
tarian purpose : they hit out, ward off a blow, put something 
down or pick something up, throw something away or clutch 
something tight. All these movements have a purpose and their 
cause is therefore less apparent. But after the scene itself, in 
the solitary walk or running, only the internal emotional causes 
of the movement are manifested, and hence such movements 
can be most expressive. 

Lilian Gish once played a poor girl looking for a job. The 
spectator accompanied her from place to place, from street to 
street, upstairs and downstairs. How much hope and dis- 
appointment, how much confidence and anxiety, self-decep- 
tion and dark despair were in her walk ! It was a tragic poem 
in itself. 

Can anyone who has seen it ever forget the last shot of 
Charlie Chaplin's Circus, when Charlie goes away? Once 
more he has been left alone, deceived by life; he has lost 
everything and has started out again all by himself. But the 
whole wide, free world lies before him, and anything might 
still happen, and the sun shines and the distant dreams lure 
him on. Charlie waddling away into the infinite was a beauti- 
ful, optimistic visual poem. 

In Alexandrov's musical comedy Jazz Comedy the hero's 
walk or, more accurately, his rhythmic marching is constantly 
cut in, as the symbol of happy vigour. And who does not 
remember Conrad Veidt's romantic, panther-like walk on 
which so many films were built up. 

Pyriev, wanting in one of his films to present the fierce 
competition between unemployed workers in Berlin, showed 
them racing wildly to be first at an address given in an ad- 
vertisement offering work. The rush was a tragic symbol, in 
it the weak and the old were trampled down and the others 
ran on over their prostrate bodies. 

Such presentation has, however, certain dangers too. Atten- 
tion may be diverted from the essential, as for instance in the 
example mentioned in the preceding paragraph. Pyriev kept 
the race of the unemployed on the screen too long, so that the 
interest of the spectator took on a sporting turn. He began 


to see a racing field, not a crowd of unemployed, all the more 
so as in the end their faces bore only the familiar expression 
of physical effort. Finally the spectator ceased to be interested 
in anything save the question as to which of the racing men 
would win. 


Because the film is the art of the visible, in other words 
bodily action, it is obvious that sporting, athletic or acrobatic 
performances can play a greater part in it than in any other 
art. It must not be forgotten, however, that unless the film is 
not a news strip, even an acrobatic performance is interesting 
only as long as it has a dramaturgic part to play, as long as it 
expresses an event, a fate, a human soul in the human story 
of the film. For a film is not a raree-show where we gape at 
everything that is exhibited — only what demonstrates a human 
fate is of interest to us. 

If a fugitive leaps across a ditch, we are interested in the 
pursuit and excited by the obstacle. But if the ditch is so wide 
that the fugitive must break an Olympic record to jump it, 
then the spectator is no longer interested in the pursuit and the 
fate of the fugitive, but in the jump as a sporting event, quite 
without reference to the artistic content of the film. 

Even in artistic films which have a sportsman for their 
hero, what is artistically interesting is not the sporting side of 
the performance. For instance in Anna Karenina (the original 
production with Greta Garbo) the horse-race scene only begins 
to be interesting and exciting when Wronski muffs his jump 
because he has caught sight of Anna and is thrown at the 


Movements which are the correct movements for a perfor- 
mance in a sporting event are not spontaneous expressive 
gestures and for this reason they are not expressive at all. They 
may be beautiful because they show strength and good health 
and a useful flexibility* But they cannot show passion or 

138 • EDITING 

emotion, they cannot reveal the soul. In scenes demanding 
physical strength and agility often only a hair's breadth 
separates the fighting hero from a professional boxer, or a 
fleeing fugitive from appearing to train for a running race. 
Expressive instinctive gestures have only causes, while the 
movements of a sporting performance have only an object. 
The everyday movements of life lie midway between the two. 



Panoramic shots provide changes without edit- 
ing. The director does not link together the pictures of objects 
shot separately, but makes the camera move so that in gliding 
past the objects it takes pictures of them in the same order as 
that in which they are aligned in reality, even if this reality is 
only the reality of a studio set. Thus the sequence is not 
brought about by editing; it already exists in nature or in the 
studio and the rhythm and speed of change is not the work of 
the editor's scissors but of the camera movement which some- 
times moves parallel to the row of objects to be photographed, 
sometimes accompanies someone who is moving along and 
shows what the person in question sees in passing; sometimes 
it turns on its heel as it were and records the surrounding 
objects in a circular sweep. This type of changing shot is called 
panoramic and modern cinematography is making increasing 
use of it. 

Apart from other reasons, it can be used more often now 
because the technique of the tracking shot has developed 
recently to high perfection. Not only can objects moving at 
great speed be adequately 'tracked' but the angle and set-up 
can be changed during shooting. Without interrupting the con- 
tinuity we can approach or withdraw, raise or lower the 
camera while 'tracking' or 'panning'. 

The film likes to use this extraordinary cinematic possibility 
among other things because it increases the apparent authenti- 
city of the picture, because in moving along with the tracking 
camera, it enables the spectator to remain in the real space 
in which the action takes place. The spectator's eye can be a 
witness to everything, nothing is skipped and the tracking shot 
cannot 'deceive' as editing can. 

Such shots are used by the modern film-makers further 



because they can thus show in one and the same shot a man 
moving in space and the space this man sees out of his own 
eyes. The panorama can be more subjective and lyrical than 

Unfortunately the modern film uses the panorama also for 
another reason: because in making the characters move in 
real space, it can more easily return to the photographed 
theatre towards which the film is also perceptibly declining at 
the present time. Hitchcock's Rope is an example of this 


It has already been said that the panorama conveys the 
reality of space to a greater extent than does cutting. From 
the linked shots we can do no more than infer that they are 
in the same sector of space or not. All we have to go on is 
the content of the shots, and logic and interrelation of events 
and our own memory, even if the film has once already shown 
us the entire space in which the scene is enacted. 

But the panorama never lets us leave this space. By force 
of identification, we explore it in the company of the camera 
and our time-sense measures the real distance which lies be- 
tween the various objects. Space itself, not the picture of 
space in perspective presentation is what we experience here. 

In Dreyer's Joan of Arc, we never see the entire space in 
which the trial takes place. The camera, moving along the 
rows of benches, takes striking close-ups of the heads of the 
judges and by this uninterrupted panoramic shot, measures for 
us the actual dimensions of a space we do not see. As a result, 
we are conscious of space all the time we are looking at the 
procession of close-ups. We see nothing but individual physiog- 
nomies, we look into the faces of outstanding personalities and 
yet never forget that here is a multitude — because we, with 
the camera, are there among them. 

The Japanese director of Shadows of Yoshiwara panned 
from one object to the other so quickly that one could scarcely 
see what was in the intermediate space. The objects in be- 
tween were not important for all the director wanted was to 


make us conscious of distance and space. For this reason he 
did not cut, nor skip the intermediate space. In such a film, 
space is not merely the place in which people and things can 
be shown : it achieves a reality of its own and has its own sig- 
nificance, independently of the objects which fill it. 

Joe May, in his film Asphalt showed the room of a German 
police sergeant. With pedantic meticulousness, the camera 
panned from object to object. Wardrobe, table, cage with 
bird, clock, enlarged photo of parents. We see everything and 
know everything; we see and understand the stuffy narrowness 
of a petty-bourgeois life — and only after this does the camera 
turn to the man himself. First we see his environment; not 
only the objects themselves, but what is more important, their 
stifling nearness to each other. We see the narrow confinement 
of this world. The reality of the panorama can convey this 
much better than the perspective of a long shot. 


It often happens in the cinema that we see by the expression 
of one of the characters that he has caught sight of something, 
though we don't know what it is — as yet we see only its effect; 
a smile, an expression of fear or some other reaction. We are 
curious to know the reason for this reaction. Then the director 
does not jump to another shot, but pans over and does so 
slowly, ritardando, to increase our curiosity, like a clever 
narrator — until at last the cause and explanation of the effect 
appear on the screen. 

Or else: in a dialogue scene the cameras pan from one 
face to the other. Then one of the two does something or 
says something unexpected. The camera stresses this by sud- 
denly slowing down the speed of the panning, so that it takes 
some time before we see the effect on the face of the other 
person, leaving us on tenterhooks. In such cases panning not 
only measures the real time that has elapsed, but may lengthen 
it for the sake of heightened dramatic effect. The panning is 
much slower than the turning of our head would be if the 
scene occurred in real life. 

A fine example of the effect that can be achieved by this 


means can be found in one of Charlie Chaplin's short bur- 
lesques, Shoulder Arms. Chaplin appears as a soldier in the 
first world war. After many tragi-comic scenes we see this 
comico-tragic one : Charlie in the bottom of a deep trench is 
standing with his comrades at the foot of the steps, waiting for 
the order to go over the top. The others are grim, motionless. 
Charlie is so frightened and trembles so much that in his 
clumsy fumbling he drops a little pocket mirror and it breaks. 
The men next to him see it and draw back from him in super- 
stitious fear, as from one who had been marked for death by 
fate. Standing in a row in the narrow trench they cannot draw 
back very far, two short paces at most. But Charlie has under- 
stood why his neighbours drew back and looks after them 
like a man abandoned by his friends in the hour of peril. The 
camera pans, following his sad and terrified gaze, and shows 
a greatly increased distance between Charlie and the other 
men. The panning is so slow, the camera takes such a long 
time in turning that the few feet seem an endless, empty desert. 
For what Charlie sees is a great void between himself and his 
fellows, who have left him alone in his misfortune, an orphan 
left alone in the world. 

We have often seen the infinities of desert and ocean, of 
distant horizons dipping into space in other films, but never 
before, in films or in any other art, such solitude in so narrow 
a space. This is the subtle lyricism of the panorama shot. 



More things can be done with a camera than taking 
photographs. It can produce many visual effects on the screen 
without taking pictures, presenting some object or reproduc- 
ing some shape or formation. In such cases the camera 
detaches itself from the object and projects its own technique 
on to the screen. Such efforts are the most specific subjective 
lyrical manifestations and the director, in identifying himself 
with them, can place a subtle personal emphasis on certain 
features in the film. 


One of these effects is fading, the darkening of the scene by 
a slow stopping down of the iris diaphragm. This is not a shot, 
not a picture at all and can yet create a most expressive atmo- 
sphere. The slow darkening of the picture is like the melan- 
choly, slowly softening voice of a narrator and after it a 
pensive silence. This purely technical effect can produce in us 
the sadness of farewells and of the impermanence of things. 
Sometimes its effect is like that of a dash in a written text, 
sometimes like a row of full stops after a sentence, leaving it 
open, sometimes like a gesture of leave-taking, a mournful 
gaze after something that has departed for ever. But at all 
times it signifies the passing of time. 

In the admirable Chapayev, Furmanov the commissar says 
goodbye to the partisan leader and his troop. He must leave 
them. The leave-taking is a short and unsentimental military 
affair. But the departure itself is extremely long-drawn-out, 
because the motor-car which takes Furmanov away from the 
band of partisans recedes on a perfectly straight road and 
dwindles more and more while still remaining visible. And the 



partisans stand and still keep their eyes on it. It holds their 
eyes and holds their hearts. And when it is so far away that 
it almost merges with the mist of the horizon, the picture very 
slowly fades out — and by this optical, technical device it takes 
over and continues the mood induced by the slow dwindling 
of the car in the distance. Up to this moment the parting friend 
had receded in the picture; now the picture itself recedes and 
fades. The sorrow of parting is here deepened into a premoni- 
tion of evil, as though not only a good friend but good fortune 
had gone from Chapayev and his band. As the diaphragm 
closes, the world grows dark for them and intangibly, but 
none the less clearly, we feel the shadow of death fall on them. 
A mere technicality of the camera mechanism here induces a 
profound emotion such as we sometimes find in the poems of 
the greatest poets. 


The iris diaphragm can produce other, no less profound 
psychological effects by other technical tricks. Fade-ins and 
dissolves also give effects only to be described as poetic. These 
possibilities have been known and used in practice for a long 
time. But what is the explanation of these effects? 

As long as the film only shows objective reality in pictures, 
the unsophisticated spectator does not perceive the subjective 
part played in it by the maker of the film, the director. This 
part may be to a very great extent implicit in his way of 
showing things, but he does not show himself, just as the 
author of a stage play does not speak in the first person. 

But when we see not only actual pictures of objects on the 
screen, but fades and dissolves, in other words photo-technical 
effects, we are no longer facing only objective reproductions 
of things — here the narrator, the author, the film-maker him- 
self is speaking to us. 


The strangeness of all this is that by the fades and dissolves 
projected on to the screen the camera in fact shows us invi- 


sible things. For instance the shot of Furmanov's departure in 
Chapayev has a profound lyrical content: the tragic darken- 
ing of Chapayev's mood, his sombre presentiment of disaster. 
But such things are after all not objects which can be photo- 
graphed; they are invisible emotions, an invisible atmosphere 
which the slow darkening of the picture nevertheless expresses 
by visual means. 

The process of thinking, the process of recalling things to 
one's memory is not visible. But by the slow fade-in of a pic- 
ture the camera can lend it a visionary and visual character 
and convey to the spectator that the pictures shown are not 
those of real objects but of images of the mind. 


Fading out a picture can also convey the passing of time. If 
we see a ship slowly disappear from view on the edge of the 
horizon, a certain passage of time is expressed by the rhythm 
of the picture. But if in addition to this, the picture is also 
faded out, then to the feeling of time-lapse caused by the dis- 
appearance of the ship in the distance is added a feeling of 
further and scarcely assessable time-lapse. For now the shot 
shows two movements : movement of the ship and movement 
of the camera diaphragm. Two times : real time of the ship's 
disappearance and filmic time produced by the fade-out. 

What we call 'filmic time' is a time effect comparable, in 
terms of space, to perspective. The outlines in a picture show 
space in perspective; certain modes of movement in the shot 
show time as it were in perspective. An analysis of these effects 
is most instructive for both film director and psychologist. 

If the film is to show the passing of time by means of a cut- 
in shot, then the cutting-in of a motionless picture suggests 
the passing of more time than a picture in which motion is 
present. If after a dramatic scene a moving shot — even one 
showing some other place — is cut in and then the picture 
returns to the previous scene, the spectator cannot have the 
feeling that many years have passed in between. The reason 
for this is that visible movement has a real duration which 
gives the impression of real time. But if a motionless object, 



a rock, the surface of a lake or something similar is cut in 
between the moving scenes, it can make the spectator feel the 
passing of a very long, of an undetermined time. For the pic- 
ture of a motionless object gives no visible measurable dura- 
tion : it has no dimension in time, hence it can represent any 
length of it. Mountains, the sea, etc., awaken the association 
'eternity' not because they show a great deal of time-lapse, but 
because they show none at all. 


If a shot shows a young face and immediately afterwards 
the same face in old age, we feel an improbable jerk, possibly 
do not even recognize that the face is the same. But if the 
young face is slowly dissolved into the old, then this optico- 
technical device suggests the time that has elapsed. It does 
not show or reproduce the passage of time, only suggests it. 
Here again the narrator, the maker of the film speaks to the 
spectator in the first person by means of a camera mechanism. 

The dissolve between two shots means a deeper connection 
between them. It is an accepted convention, expression, turn of 
speech in the language of the film, that if two pictures slowly 
dissolve into each other, the two are bound together by a 
deep, dramaturgically important, connection which may not 
be of a nature capable of being expressed by a series of shots 
depicting actual objects. The technique of the dissolve permits 
the placing of lyrical and intellectual emphasis where required 
in a film. 


In a film entitled Homecoming, Joe May once showed the 
long wandering of two escaped prisoners of war. And how did 
he show the devouring infinity of that journey across the end- 
less plains of Siberia, along the endless highways of Russia? 
How many landscapes, how many towns and villages would 
he have had to show, if the spectator was to be given so much 
as an inkling of the endless distances and endless years? Joe 
May was wiser than that — he showed none at all. We saw no 


landscapes, not even the two prisoners, we saw only feet walk- 
ing in close-up. And because we saw no landscapes, not one, 
there could have been a thousand of them. 

For those feet walk incessantly and we see in dissolves 
the strong army boots go to pieces; in more slow dissolves the 
peasant sandals go too; then the miserable rags in which the 
feet are wrapped drop to tatters and finally we see only naked 
bleeding feet. If these shots had been placed in sequence with- 
out transition, we would have felt a brutal jerk in these four 
realistic shots, a symbolic presentation of four static condi- 
tions. The slow process of time-lapse and change is conveyed 
only by the dissolving of the shots into each other, although 
the actual projection on to the screen of a technical device does 
not represent any reality. The real time of projection of the 
shots showing the walking feet is about three minutes but our 
consciousness accepts the suggestion that months, even years 
have passed in that time. 


Such frequent consecutive dissolves are convincing only if 
the shots are close-ups. A whole human figure placed in a 
broad landscape impresses us too strongly with its bodily and 
spatial reality. This makes the illusory, thought-like weightless- 
ness of the dissolve much less acceptable. If in the course of 
the four changes mentioned in the preceding we had even once 
seen great mountains, forests, rivers or houses dissolve into 
one another, the trick technique of the dissolve would have 
become far too obvious. A visible change in a landscape easily 
produces the effect of a dream, or of magic. But changes in 
things we do not see are no problem. Unseen landscapes can 
be countless and unmeasured time can be infinite. The close-up 
not only isolates objects in space, but seems to lift them out 
of space entirely and transfer them to a conceptual space in 
which different laws obtain. 

The optical technique of dissolves very often renders un- 
necessary the dramaturgical technique of cut-in scenes (i.e. of 
parallel actions). 


If a figure we have seen in one scene appears on another 
scene without intermediary pictures, by simply cutting them 
to follow each other, the spectator will consciously or sub- 
consciously wonder how it got there. Such primitive alignment 
is apt to strike us as clumsy, as bad technique. But if we dis- 
solve the first scene into the second, no one is likely to jib at 
suddenly seeing the same figure in another place. For in this case 
we are no longer passive onlookers at a spectacle; we witness 
the visual intervention of the film-maker in the course of the 
story and he, the film-maker, invites us to participate in this 
intervention which changes the scene and causes time to pass. 

It is in many ways of advantage to get rid of the necessity of 
parallel actions by this means. It simplifies the progress of the 
story, a necessity for modern psychological films which can 
thus concentrate more on the main action in which the leading 
hero is concerned. 

Dissolve technique is appropriate where the director wishes 
his sequences to flow in a smooth, epic stream. If the story 
demands sudden dramatic stresses, cross-cutting and the 
parallel actions it involves will be more appropriate. 


It has been already said that a dissolve between two shots 
always and inevitably produces the feeling of an essential con- 
nection between them. If two scenes are dissolved into one 
another, the figure which appears in both provides the visual 
link. In such cases it is advisable to make the figure visually 
striking, so that its surroundings can fade away from around 
it as something less material than the figure itself, which seems 
to change its surroundings as a man changes his coat. 

A frequent well-tried device for achieving this is to show 
the figure in the foreground in sharp focus while the surround- 
ing scenery slowly pales and the picture narrows around the 
figure, thus first lifting it out of space before the iris opens 
again on another scene. 



In one of my own films, Narcosis, there was no cutting at all 
because the style of the film demanded the rhythm of shots 
softly blending into each other. When the hero in that film 
was about to go on a journey, we saw a close-up of his suitcase 
ready packed in his room. Then the picture narrowed to show 
only the suitcase, while the room vanished. The suitcase 
slowly began to vibrate. Then the diaphragm opens up again 
and the vibrating suitcase which had never for an instant been 
lost to our view, was vibrating in the luggage-net of a railway 
carriage. We were on a train in motion. The camera panned 
from the suitcase to the seats. Our hero was already sitting on 
one of them and travelling. 

The heroine stood deserted and disconsolate in a street. The 
diaphragm narrowed to her hands, which were kneading a 
tear-soaked handkerchief. In a slow dissolve the handkerchief 
turned into a white rose. The hands remained the same. When 
the diaphragm opened a bit more we saw that the hands were 
tying roses into a bouquet and when it opened fully we saw 
a long-medium shot of the girl serving a customer in a florist's 
shop. Such dissolves show not merely two situations, but can 
convey the broad epic flow of a human life, a human destiny. 
One must, however, use this method sparingly, otherwise it 
easily degenerates into an idle, pointless formalism. 


The most frequent form of this type of dissolve is that the 
last shot of a scene is a close-up in which only a single face 
or hand or object remains in the frame, being thus lifted out 
of its space. This last shot of the scene is at the same time the 
(first shot of the next scene, which emerges as the diaphragm 
is opened up. The object shown in the close-up has not moved 
and has remained before our eyes and the new surroundings 
appear behind it — behind the shot as it were. By this means 
such a change is experienced by the spectator in his own per- 
son. We see no physical movement, we see no locomotion of 
any kind and so the reality of time is absent from such changes 


which greatly increases the non-material character of the film. 

This technique also stimulates the spectator's curiosity; he 
waits eagerly for the next surprise in store for him when the 
scene — in which he already knows the hero to be — opens to 
view; he can even see the reflection of the new surroundings 
in the hero's face, while the narrowed diaphragm still con- 
ceals it from him, the spectator. 

In sound films, as already mentioned, this effect can be in- 
creased by letting the sounds connected with the new scene 
encroach upon the unchanged close-up of the old. We thus 
hear the new surroundings before we see them. 


The technique of dissolve, which can change the scene and 
make time and space illusory, is eminently suitable for the 
presentation of the association of ideas and mental pictures 
in memory, in dreams or in imagination. 

In Narcosis, the life of a girl is shown as seen by her in a 
dream under an anaesthetic. The reason for this device was 
to give the scenes and shots only the emotional reality they 
acquired in the experience of the girl herself, without having 
to show the many indifferent and unimportant details of life 
without which it is impossible to present everyday reality so 
as to be readily understood. 

The heroine of Narcosis is a schoolgirl. One day she leaves 
the class. (All this she dreams under an anaesthetic.) She gets 
to her feet, leaves the form, the camera following. We see her 
all the time and behold, now she is in the street, although we 
did not see her open a door or walk down stairs. These pas- 
sages could not be left out of a presentation of reality, although 
they are of no importance whatsoever. In Narcosis the sur- 
roundings change without interrupting the flow of action. We 
are in the street. The street is indicated only by a row of 
street lamps. A light is approaching from afar. The girl does 
not move. A brilliantly lit shop-window, that of a bookshop. 
The girl dissolves through the window and is inside the book- 
shop. The surroundings change without the girl changing her 
position — because in reality she does not change it, she is 


dreaming it all. Now she is standing in front of a theatre book- 
ing office. She wants to buy a ticket, cannot get one. In the 
theatre foyer ladies and gentlemen walk past her. She turns to 
go away, but takes only one step and is walking on snow, 
another step and she is walking along between snow-covered 
trees in a forest. We are seeing the girl all the time but how she 
'really' got out of the theatre and to the forest and when — all 
this we don't see. It is thus that we see space and time in our 
dreams; one scene does not change into another scene at an 
improbable speed, but in such a way that the various scenes 
have no consistent local character at all. We may for instance 
be in a room and yet be in a forest too, all at the same time. 
Such things cannot be shown or presented either on the stage 
or in literature as they can be in a film. Why then do we see 
such spiritual film-stories so rarely in our films ? 


All too frequently do we see another device. When a 
director wants a change of scene but does not want to show 
intermediate scenes, he often has a curtain of shadow, techni- 
cally termed a 'wipe', drawn across the picture. In other words 
he begins a new scene by means of a device borrowed from the 
stage. This admission of impotence, this barbarian bit of lazi- 
ness is so contrary to the spirit of film art that the only thing 
to be said in its defence is that it is nevertheless preferable to 
a picture cut in without dramaturgical motivation. 




The first part of this book dealt with the transforma- 
tion of cinematography from a technique into an art, the 
transformation of a moving picture industry, which merely 
reproduced stage performances, into an autonomous, indepen- 
dent, utterly novel art-producer which in developing its own 
medium of expression, developed at the same time the new 
sensibility, the new visual culture required for an understand- 
ing of the new art. I attempted to define in it the laws govern- 
ing the new form-language of film art, especially in the period 
of the brilliant development of the silent film : a theory of the 
picture-language which at that time was as yet soundless and 
colourless. I dealt with this section separately because much 
of the visual culture created in the last years of the silent film 
had been lost through subsequent technical developments and 
I believe that the memory of this once already achieved level 
of culture should be preserved against the time when a new 
turn in the destiny of the film may enable it to be resumed 
again in some new form. 

We have recognized as the new methods of expression pro- 
vided by the film : 

the division of scenes into shots, i.e. pictures of detail; 

the change of angle and set-up within the same scene; 

the 'identification' between spectator and camera; 

the close-up; 

montage (editing, cutting). 

This is not to say, of course, that film art has no other 
specific features, nor does it imply that the value of any filmic 
work of art is dependent solely on these points. It does mean, 
however, that every other element or content of any such 
work of art can manifest itself only within these basic visual 
and acoustic forms. Colour does not constitute the only pos- 



sible value of a painting, but no such value can be manifested 
without recourse to colour — colour is the only medium in 
which it can be perceived in a painting. 

The dialogue is not a specific feature of the talkie; it is a 
far older and more essential component of both the drama and 
the epic. But the basic forms of film art previously mentioned, 
determine other, specific, new laws according to which dia- 
logue can be used in films, and which lend the film dialogue 
a new specific character and produce specific effects. 


Years before the sound film was invented, the means of ex- 
pression of the silent film had acquired such wealth and 
subtlety that a tendency had arisen which advocated the dis- 
carding of all other means of expression — notably the story — 
entirely. At that time artists in other spheres of art were also 
searching for and insisting on a 'pure' style. But nowhere did 
such demands appear as justified as in the sphere of filmic art. 

We have seen that microphysiognomy and microdrama- 
turgy, angle, set-up and cutting had acquired a creative force 
which could penetrate so deeply to the core of life, reproduce 
so vividly the raw material of reality, as to find sufficient 
expressive dramatic elements in it without a need for a con- 
structive 'plot', a preliminary literary treatment, a story, a 

This trend established the artistic principle that the camera 
ought not to illustrate novels or plays written in advance (even 
if specially written for the purposes of the given film) but 
should create its works of art by the direct approach of the 
camera to the raw material of life. It should seek its subjects 
not in epic or dramatic happenings but in simple visibility, in 
visual existence. Approximately the same postulate had a 
couple of decades before eliminated the 'theme' from painting. 

It cannot be denied that this demand for a 'pure style' had 
some artistic justification in the sphere of the film and the 
followers of this trend undoubtedly enriched cinematic art by 
certain variants of style and form. Soon however this school, 
known in European cinematic art as avantgardism, developed 


into a separatist art-for-art's-sake toying with mere form and 
ceased to exercise the fructifying influence it had at one time 
possessed and which manifested itself, for instance, in inspiring 
and developing to an important art form in its own right such 
things as documentaries and 'films without a hero'. It was carried 
away by the undertow of the decadent formalism of an ex- 
pressionism by now grown quite divorced from reality and it 
ended up in the blind alley of the 'subjectless' 'absolute film' 
style. The possibilities of the means now determined the ends, 
and the formal intentions the contents. This trend, consistently 
followed, leads to the final logical conclusion of a form giving 
itself its own content, of words devised to designate not things 
but merely other words; that is, to frustration and emptiness. 

I intentionally devote more attention to these trends than 
would be justified by their prevalence; for the film industry of 
the world produced a very small percentage of avantgardiste, 
'absolute' films and they in fact remained curiosities limited 
to the screens of Paris, London or Berlin, and were appre- 
ciated only by small coteries of specialists, theorists and in- 
tellectual snobs. 

Nevertheless their importance should not be underrated. 
Firstly because they were extremely productive experimental 
stages in a process of artistic form-seeking. Secondly because 
the contemporary film directors, while not themselves inclined 
to make pure-style avantgardiste films, very often made use 
of novel forms evolved by those who did. The ultimate 
development of the silent film can scarcely be explained with- 
out pointing to avantgardiste influences in it. Many later very 
successful and popular directors passed through the avantgar- 
diste school and carried the visual culture developed there into 
their commercially-produced films. It was precisely this visual 
training which enabled such directors to make their films so 
alluring and popular. An example of this is Rene Clair. 

Another viewpoint must however also be emphasized here. 
This book is intended as an investigation of the form-giving 
laws governing a new art, not as a Baedeker-like classifica- 
tion and evaluation of works of art. What is important in the 
first place is not how perfect a work of art as a work of art 
may be, but how instructive it is from the point of view of 


determining the laws of the art. On this point it is to be said 
that the phenomena connected with the decadence of so-called 
decadent art very often throw a more penetrating light on the 
aesthetic and psychological laws governing artistic creation, 
than the inaccessibly smooth, unbroken surfaces of a perfect 
masterpiece might do. Metals and rocks are recognized most 
easily by the characteristics of their broken surfaces. The laws 
of chemistry remain valid in the processes of decomposition 
and putrefaction, and are indeed more easily discernible there 
than in a healthy organism. This is one of the reasons why, in 
searching for the deeper chemistry of art, we devote so much 
attention to certain phenomena described as decadent. 

Finally it is well to remember what Alois Riegl found more 
than once in examining changes of style in the course of art 
history; that a certain phenomenon may be a symptom of 
decadence in the art of a certain age or class and at the same 
time be the first manifestation of the form-language of a new 
class or age. I myself believe that the method of idea-associa- 
tion developed by the avantgardiste film will not really play its 
fructifying part in film art until some future time, when the 
development of the sound film and talkie will have taken a 
new, genuinely filmic direction. The history of art may some- 
times take a leaf out of the thrifty housewife's book and keep 
the left-overs to dish them up again in a new form. 

The avantgardiste movement in the film began in France 
together with other movements tending to 'absolutize' other 
specific artistic forms. The other arts rebelled against the 
encroachment of literature on their sphere and in the end 
literature, too, followed suit. Everyone wanted to reproduce 
'the phenomenon pure and simple' and no one was particularly 
interested in the reality that manifested itself in the pheno- 
menon. This, too, was a hangover from the psychotic condi- 
tions following the first world war; it was one of the ways in 
which bourgeois consciousness sought to escape reality. 


Such escapism very often takes roundabout ways. The 
psychologists know this well enough. For instance the flight 


from preconstructed film stories claimed that its object was to 
get closer to reality. The photographic 'ascertainment' of the 
immediate reality of life, free of literary influences, seemed 
more realistic than the feature films with their intricate plots. 
In other words, one of the directions of the flight from the 
film story was towards reality. 

But at the same time another no less strong trend developed 
in another direction. Here again there was a desire to escape 
from the literary, epic or dramatic content of the film but the 
way it chose was towards the abstract shapes and formal con- 
structions of 'pure visuality', on the model of 'abstract' paint- 
ing. Thus the film attempted to get away from epic or dramatic 
content in two opposite directions; on the one hand towards 
pure reportage and the documentary film, on the other hand 
towards absolute visuality, the kaleidoscope of optical impres- 
sions, the purely formal capers of the 'absolute' film. 


The first step in all this was the film without a hero. It still 
had predetermined events, scenes arranged in advance and a 
certain connection between these. It also still had a story 
but the story was not bound up with the person of a central 
character and hence such films lacked the constructed drama- 
tic conflict and plot which arises from the struggle of two or 
more persons. 

The adherents of this trend did not want to string the 
characteristic events of life on the slender thread of a single 
human destiny. They wanted to show a broad cross-section of 
life, not merely the narrow slice of it which can be seen from 
the viewpoint of one person and compressed into the limits 
of a single human being's capacity. Life as such, typical life, 
and not the chance life of any one man, was to be presented. 
Such a film, it was thought, would not appear to be artificial, 
a mere invention of some script-writer; it would appear natural 
and logical. This was the theory. 

I was one of the first to make such a film. The title was The 
Adventures of a Ten-Mark Note. It was produced for the 
European branch of Fox in Berlin, was directed by Berthold 


Viertel and the cameraman was Karl Freund. The ostensible 
central hero was a ten-mark banknote, which as it passed from 
hand to hand, was the cause of all the adventures recorded 
in the film. The other characters changed in every scene. The 
events were in casual connection with each other but the 
human characters moved past each other as in a mist, unaware 
of each other and not even suspecting that their actions decided 
the fate of the others. The ten-mark banknote was the only 
thread that held the scenes together. 

The scenes of such cross-section films are just as carefully 
thought out as the scenes of any strictly composed drama and 
their sequence and linkage is even more intricate, because 
more subtly constructed, than the most literary of novels. But 
the series of scenes of such a film have no predetermined 
direction, no dramatic culmination, no movement towards a 
definite end. They move tapestry-like in one and the same 
plane and their number could be increased or decreased at 
will. Such a composition doubtless has a certain naturalistic 
semblance of reality through the chance character of every- 
thing that happens, but it entirely lacks the convincing power 
of artistic necessity. 

It is characteristic that I got the first inspiration for this 
'non-literary' film from a well-known literary classic : Tolstoy's 
The Forged Coupon', a story in which a coupon passes from 
hand to hand like my ten-mark note. 

It is not surprising that the best 'hero-less' films were made 
in the Soviet Union soon after the 1917 revolution, when the 
romantic conception of the spontaneously acting 'mass-soul' 
was still very much in vogue. Eisenstein's mighty October (or 
Ten Days That Shook The World) presented the uprising in 
Leningrad without making a central figure even out of Lenin; 
only masses were shown facing masses, although of course 
these masses were masterfully drawn, with individual charac- 
ters and characteristic physiognomies. 

The basic dangers inherent in this type of film are twofold. 
One is that as the character and specific quality of the masses 
is manifested not only in their external, visual appearance but 
even more in their behaviour and action, such films must 
inevitably also have something happening in them, and these 


happenings are often confused, accidental and never as clearly 
outlined as the fate of a single hero would be. 

The other basic danger arose from this: the makers of 
such cross-section or mass-action films imagined that they 
could paint a monumental picture by having no central hero 
and thereby avoiding the fortuitousness of an individual 
destiny. The trouble was that if an artist renounces individu- 
alization, what he achieves is not something of universal 
validity; it is on the contrary, complete disintegration. Every 
consciously shaped thing has its own individual physiognomy, 
and it is only the smallest particles that are all alike. A stone 
on the hillside and the stone of one of Michelangelo's sculp- 
tures are both stones; As stones, their material is more or less 
the same. It is not the substance but the form that constitutes 
the difference between them. The artist who wants to show the 
raw material and not the form would do better to smash his 
work. But it is an old canon of art that the spirit and law 
of a material manifests itself most perfectly in the constructed 
forms of a work of art and not in the raw material. 

The fable, the story, is like a human portrait; only in its 
artistic shaping, as a closed entity, does it become expressive 
and it is thus that it best gives expression to its material too. 
But if we want to present material without reference to form, 
such material will have no pattern, it will be no image. Only 
if we smash it, can a piece of furniture again merely be a piece 
of wood. 


Travel films have grown into an interesting and important 
form of film art. Here are artistic presentations of reality with- 
out literary theme and script, without literary mediation, 
directly achieved by the new, fully-developed artistic medium 
of cinematography. Here are pictures, not of invented travels, 
but of journeys actually made and nevertheless they are works 
of art. Here art lies not in invention but in discovery. In the 
immense jungle of experienced reality the artist must find 
what is most characteristic, most interesting, most plastic and 
expressive and brings out most vividly the tendency, the ideo- 



logical intention which is consciously or unconsciously but 
inevitably contained in every film depicting reality. 

The artistic composition of such films begins with the plan- 
ning of the journey, and not with the grouping of shots already 
made, not with the cutting. Whoever makes a journey with the 
intention of describing it, be it in words or in pictures, must 
already have a preconception of his experiences. The same 
applies to those who write diaries. There is a curious transi- 
tional art form here, a form which lies between a mere record- 
ing of reality and the interpreting intentions of a film director. 
Such intentions are often unconscious or subconscious and 
provide opportunities for interesting psychological studies. 

A tramp sees only what chance puts in his way. But a 
traveller has a definite aim, just as a good writer has. The 
journey determines the form of the film and the itinerary 
already lays down the cutting plan. The actual cutting of the 
strip ought merely to eliminate certain residual superfluities. 

Is the news film a form of artistic creation? If it is to give 
an honest picture of reality, its first concern should be this 
and not art. But it soon became obvious that even a strictly 
scientific instructional film cannot be made without taking 
artistic points into consideration and making conscious use of 
artistic means of expression. For in order that out of the 
empirical fog of reality the truth — that is, the law and 
meaning of reality — may emerge through the interpretation of 
a seeing and experiencing maker, such a maker must bring 
into play every means of expression available to the art of 
the film. 


Out of the transitional form last mentioned several interest- 
ing, valuable and popular kinds of film have developed. One 
of the most interesting of these is the documentary film which 
has a central figure, a hero. In such films we see not only the 
neutral things of reality but in their focal point a man whose 
everyday life and destiny they make up and it is this man 
who gives meaning and functional life to that reality. Such 
an 'enacted' instructional film shows reality with scientific 


completeness but nevertheless as experienced by a human 
being. By this means the film is not only rendered more vivid 
and interesting, but also often more true. For the realities of 
nature are given their deepest meaning for man if presented 
as a social experience; even the extra-social nature of the 
primeval forest or the arctic ice-pack is in the last instance a 
social experience; the very conception of solitude is a correla- 
tive conception and acquires intellectual and emotional con- 
tent only if we are aware of its opposite, non-solitude. 

The first such documentaries of the silent film, showing the 
realities of some part of the world in the form of a human 
fate were Nanook of the North, Chang which gave a picture 
of the jungle and Moana, a film of the South Pacific. 

In Chang the struggle of a poor Indian family of settlers 
against the jungle develops into the fierce war of an Indian 
village against a herd of wild elephants. It is a documentary 
but it is a drama built up according to all the rules of aesthetics 
and dramaturgy. We find even a parallel to the chorus in the 
antique tragedy in the band of monkeys anxiously watching 
the battle between men and elephants from the tops of the 
coconut palms. The monkey watchers are cut into the film 
in the same way as clever directors cut the excited crowd of 
fans into a sports scene. This magnificent pantomimic chorus 
of monkeys accompanies the struggle of the humans and 
stresses its every phase. 

There is not one 'invented' scene in Chang. But every scene 
is 'directed'. In the way in which the scholar's lecture and 
explanations are rendered convincing by visual means, the 
artistic intention is manifested on a par with the didactic. 
It is quite probable that tame elephants had to be trained to 
play with the proper natural ferocity the part of the wild 
elephants before the camera. Even reality is shown more con- 
vincingly by such acting. 

Another transitional film form, even more closely related 
to the feature film than is the documentary, is the biographical 
film which has recently become popular. In these there are of 
course many romantic, constructed scenes just as there are in 
the not quite strictly scientific biographical novels. Fine films 
have for instance been made of the lives of Edison, Pasteur, 


Mme Curie; the Russian Lenin and Gorky films also belong 
to this category. Here, although the decisive events are not 
invented, the individual scenes are of course directed or at best 
reconstructed. Nevertheless the authentic data of the actual 
life-story set a limit to literary inventions. 


The search for the literature-free 'pure film style' led direc- 
tors not only to travel with their camera into unknown dis- 
tances, but also to penetrate into a yet undiscovered and un- 
known nearness. The first such traveller who went on a voyage 
of discovery into proximity was the Russian Dziga Vertov. He 
called it Cine-Eye and his idea was to peep with his camera 
at the little events of our workaday lives which we incessantly 
see and never notice. These molecules of life become signifi- 
cant if we isolate them in close-up and having isolated them, 
draw their outlines and by doing so give them form. 

These little events are genuinely captured not constructed 
reality — they are as though they had been photographed 
through a keyhole. A child playing — a couple of lovers kiss- 
ing — a cabby grumbling — an old man having forty winks on 
a park seat. They never knew that they were being 'shot'. The 
interest of these pictures lies in their authenticity. And very 
often they radiate a certain latent excitement through the 
knowledge that we are treading on forbidden ground, that 
we are peeping at something we were not meant to see. Such 
fragments of reality can then be collated into whatever 'truth' 
the director chooses to demonstrate by their means, Here the 
scissors play the poet in good earnest and say: 'Behold! 
This is life ! ' 

These entirely authentic shots of actual reality are the most 
subjective of all. They have no story but they do have a central 
figure, a hero. This hero is invisible because he is the one 
who sees it all out of his 'cine-eye.' But everything he sees 
expresses his own personality, however unconstructed the 
reality in his shots may appear. It is he who is characterized 
and reflected in the shots which he took in preference to some 
other fragments of reality. Only his own subjective feeling 


determined the choice, the sequence, the cutting rhythm of the 
things he shows us. He is an artist who seems to yield himself 
up to objective impressions without looking for a link between 
them. But he himself supplies the link and his subjective self 
is the constructive principle on which the film is built. How- 
ever faithfully he has taken his photographs, they are a 
deliberate selection, a selected world and this world is his 
own. Such 'factual' films are the most subjective of all films 
They will form the most significant, the richest, the most filmic 
art form of that lyrical film-poetry which is yet to be born. 


We are accustomed to see them at the beginning of film 
shows, just before the main feature comes on. To all appear- 
ances they are an innocent form of pictorial reporting. In fact 
they are the most dangerous instruments of propaganda. They 
are not put together by poetic, artistic subjectivity, as are the 
reality fragments of the 'cine-eye' — they express the intentions 
of the interests and power groups who pay for them. They lie 
even more boldly than the lying, distorting newspapers, for 
they appear to be objective and authentic photographic, 
records, a sort of pictorial diary of the age. They are really 
interesting and instructive only if we have the opportunity 
of seeing side by side, or rather face to face, news films made 
of the same events by groups hostile to one another. They 
show no similarity at all, although they purport to show the 
same things and what is truly characteristic of them and ex- 
pressive in them is what they do not show. 

One need only edit them a little, however, and they are 
completely transformed. Before Hitler's seizure of power, but 
when the Weimar republic was already on its last legs, a 
workers' film society was formed in Berlin. It arranged film 
shows and would have shown news-reels of its own, but the 
censorship banned them. So they bought old UFA news-reels, 
which had long finished their run and had been approved by 
the censorship in their time. From these we cut new reels. For 
instance, in the 'Dogs' beauty contest', overwhelmingly glamor- 
ous ladies held expensive lap-dogs in their arms. Next to this 


was 'One who did not take part in the contest' : a blind beggar 
and his 'seeing eye' dog, watching over his miserable master 
in the cold of winter. Then 'St Moritz' : Skating rinks and the 
guests on the terrace of a luxury hotel. 'This, too, is St 
Moritz': a melancholy procession of ragged, hungry snow- 
shovellers and rink-sweepers. 'Brilliant military parade' 
followed by 'Disabled ex-servicemen begging in the streets'. 
There were no other captions. The police were itching to ban 
these news-reels but could not do so, as they were all respect- 
able UFA news-reels, every one of them approved by the cen- 
sorship. Only the order of showing had been altered a little. 

Single pictures are mere reality. Only the montage turns 
them into either truths or falsehoods. Herein lies the immense 
responsibility devolving on the news-reels. Their convincing 
power is in the fact that the spectator feels that he is an eye- 
witness. The shot is accepted as a fact, a presentation of con- 
clusive proof, although of course it is not by accident that the 
camera comes to a halt in front of one particular object and 
not of another. 


If there are films which deserve the appellation of 'cultural' 
films, they are those film memorials to human effort, proclaim- 
ing the glory of human labour, toil which at the cost of skill 
and sweat is labouring to make this earth a garden. I want to 
mention first of all one of the finest examples of this kind 
of documentary: Turin's Turksib. All that this film shows 
is the building of a railway from Siberia to Turkestan. Many 
railways have been built before this, longer railways, railways 
involving more arduous technical tasks. And yet this film was 
such an outstanding success and exercised such an inspiring, 
onward-urging influence, that few feature films could be found 
to rival it. For the great human significance of this piece of 
Soviet construction was expressed by a Soviet director in a 
passionate and monumental pictorial epic, the appeal of which 
was irresistible far beyond the borders of the Soviet Union. 

The building of the first railway ever to link Siberia with 
Turkestan is shown in this film with a dramatic tension and 


passionate ardour rarely matched by any feature film. First 
we are shown the sense and necessity of the railway by a 
demonstration of the mutual economic interdependence of the 
populations of the two regions. They cannot live while a track- 
less desert separates them from each other. The people suffer 
in the north, they suffer in the south. The murderous sand- 
storms of the desert destroy the caravans. These sequences are 
like distress signals. They show the building of the railway as 
a life-saving operation. This is no longer a railway, it is the 
very life of two peoples. The spectator watches the progress 
of the work with sympathy and anxiety. 

Now the film shows the obstacles and difficulties. In the 
north a frost of 42 degrees centigrade beneath zero. In the 
south the parching desert. Invincible obstacles. The greatest 
of them the obstinate resistance of the ignorant, backward 
desert nomads. First this must be overcome. As in an ancient 
epic, human determination enters into a mythical duel with 
the terrifying forces of nature. Every shot is set up as a battle, 
every scene is directed as a struggle. The struggle is hard, per- 
sistent, resolute — it is fought for the good of men. This is why 
the film has such an irresistible appeal, this is why its end is 
such a triumphant apotheosis, although all it really is is just 
a modest be-garlanded engine puffing along a single-track road. 
But there are people standing along the track, waving, smil- 
ing, dancing, weeping for joy and exuberantly galloping on 
horseback donkeyback, camelback, bullockback to race the 
steam engine that is bringing a new age to Siberia and 

This film was made during the building of the railway. In 
the last shot the date of the planned completion of the scheme 
appeared in the smoke of the engine: 1930. Turksib was to 
be finished in 1930. 

But in 1930, when I edited this film for European audiences, 
I had to change the date in this shot to 1929. For the railway 
had been completed six months before and was in operation by 
1930. How did this happen? 

The film, which was shot in 1928, was of course shown first 
of all to an audience of Turksib railway workers who having 
seen the importance of their own work, were so enthused that 


they undertook to complete Turksib six months ahead of 
schedule. They kept their word. Thus it happened that the 
dialectic interaction of life and art was palpably manifested 
in the story of this film. Turksib was a documentary and in it 
the reality of building was turned into art. Then when the 
effect of the film was to speed up building, i.e. to influence 
reality, art again was transformed into reality. This new reality 
is on the other hand again a subject for art and new works 
of art will again influence it. Thus life and art run parallel, 
inspiring, urging, directing each other's efforts. 

Another splendid film is Zuiderzee by Joris Ivens. Men re- 
conquer land from the sea. An invisible force is made visible 
in this film : the directing intelligence of man, just as an invis- 
ible wind is made visible by the bending of tree-tops. 


Thus can the documentary film fulfil its great vocation as 
the pictorial chronicle of mankind. For everything that hap- 
pens, happens in the last resort to men and through men. You 
want to show a great civilization, great technical progress? 
Show them in the men who work; show their faces, their eyes, 
and then we shall be able to tell what that civilization means 
and what it is worth. You want to show the harvest of the 
fields? Only the ploughman's face will lend expression to the 
face of the earth. This is the decisive document among all 
documentary pictures. The tragedies of ocean storms can only 
become five experience through the microdrama of the sailors' 


The value and significance of documentary films will natur- 
ally depend in the first place on what sort of a reality it is 
which they reveal. But this book deals not with reality — its 
subject is the cinematic presentation of reality and therefore, 
however sensational the theme of a film may be, it will be 
discussed here only if it demonstrates the specific possibilities 
of the film medium. The newsreels relating to the war also 


interest us only inasmuch as they show something that could 
be shown by no other medium save the film. What concerns 
us here are not open-air photographs of thousands of guns, 
flying armadas or bursting bombs and shells but what is at 
the root of it all, the human face, which only the film camera 
can approach so intimately. 

In general war-films are as primitive and brutal as is war 
itself. For this reason only one war film is to be mentioned 
here. Its artistic and moral message is such that it is worthy 
of being preserved for ever in some Pantheon of greatest 
human documents. 

This film was made after the first world war and its title 
was Pour La Paix du Monde. It was produced by the 
French organization of the most grievously injured of all war- 
wounded the name of which was 'Les Gueules Casses'. The 
director who compiled the film from the strips in the archives 
of the armed forces was Colonel Piquard, chairman of the 
organisation of the 'Faceless Ones', the men who lived like 
lepers in an isolated, secret community of their own, because 
the sight of them would have been unbearable for their 
fellow-men. The film begins by showing these faceless ones in 
close-up, their mutilations covered by masks. Then they take 
off their silken masks and with it they tear the mask off the 
face of war. 

Those whom the war has robbed of their faces show the 
true face of war to those who know nothing of it. And this 
physiognomy of war is of an emotional power, a force of 
pathos no artistic feature film about the war had ever attained. 
For here war is presented by its victims, horror is presented 
by the horrified, torture by the tortured, deadly peril by those 
endangered — and it is they who see these things in their 
true colours. 

A panning shot glides over a quiet, a now quietened battle- 
field. The desolation of a lunar landscape. Nowhere a single 
blade of grass. On the mountainside gunfire has peeled the 
earth from the naked rock. Shell craters, trenches without end. 
The camera pans slowly round without stopping. Trenches full 
of dead bodies, more trenches and more and more and more. 
An immense space in which nothing moves. Corpses, corpses, 


only corpses. Panorama. This stolid monotony which takes 
hold of you and will not let go is like a long-drawn, desperate 

Here is another shot: a whole regiment blinded by poison 
gas is being driven through the streets of burning Bruges. Yes, 
the herd of blind men is being driven like a herd of sheep, 
herded with bayonet and butt to keep them from running 
into the burning ruins in their path. A picture for another 

But there are worse things, although no human beings 
appear. The gardens of the Champagne after the German re- 
treat. (It was not in the second world war that the Germans 
invented some of their methods.) We see a charnel-house of an 
ancient and lovely orchard culture. Thousands of precious, 
noble fruit trees neatly sawed off by power-saw, all exactly at 
the same height. The creation of centuries of skill and industry 
destroyed with machine-like accuracy. These pictures, too, 
have a physiognomy; the distorted faces of the tree-corpses 
are no less terrible than those of the human dead. But the 
caption to this, of course silent, shot was not: 'Behold the 
German barbarian ! ' It said 'C'est la guerre!' The noble faith 
of French peace-lovers did not blame the Germans even here, 
it blamed war. Nevertheless under the Weimar Republic the 
showing of this film was banned in Germany. 

This French documentary of the first world war was dedi- 
cated to the six cameramen who had been killed on active 
service while shooting it. The Soviet war film showing the 
conquest of Berlin names in its credits fourteen cameramen 
killed while shooting it. This fate of the creative artist is also 
a new phenomenon in cultural history and is specific to film 
art. Artists in olden days rarely died of their dangerous 
creative work. And this has not merely a moral or political 
significance, but is of importance for the psychology of art 
as well. 

This presentation of reality by means of motion pictures 
differs essentially from all other modes of presentation in that 
the reality being presented is not yet completed; it is itself still 
in the making while the presentation is being prepared. The 
creative artist does not need to dip into his memory and recall 


what has happened — he is present at the happening itself and 
participates in it. 

When someone tells about past battles, these battles are 
already over and the greatest perils are no longer perils, once 
they are past and can be told by word of mouth or print. 

The camera image is different. It is not made after the 
event. The cameraman is himself in the dangerous situation 
we see in his shot and it is by no means certain that he will 
survive the birth of his picture. Until the strip has been run 
to its end we cannot know whether it will be completed at all. 
It is this tangible being-present that gives the documentary 
the peculiar tension no other art can produce. 

Whoever has listened to a report given over a field tele- 
phone, when the noise of battle, the rattle of shots and the 
screams of the wounded can be heard together with the words 
spoken into the microphone, will have experienced this ten- 
sion in the acoustic sphere. Such telephone reports sometimes 
break off in the middle of a sentence and the silence that 
follows is as eloquent as a scream of mortal agony. 

In the French war film just discussed, a sequence suddenly 
breaks off. It darkens and the camera wobbles. It is like an 
eye glazing in death. The director did not cut out this 'spoilt' 
bit — it shows where the camera was overturned and the 
cameraman killed, while the automatic mechanism ran on. 
In another picture we see the cameraman dying for the sake 
of his picture. 

The significance of such shots lies not in the death-despising 
courage to which they bear witness. We have often heard of 
men who could look death in the eye. We may even have seen 
them. What is new and different here is that these cameramen 
look death in the face through the lens of a movie picture 
camera. This happens not only on battlefields. 

Who could forget Captain Scott's film, which is almost as if 
he had shot his own death and breathed his last sigh into a 

Who could forget Sir Ernest Shackleton's magnificent pic- 
tures of his Antarctic journey or the film taken by the Soviet 
Polar explorers camping beside the wreck of the ice-breaker 


Yes, it is a new form of human consciousness that was born 
out of the union of man and camera. For as long as these 
men do not lose consciousness, their eye looks through the 
lens and reports and renders conscious their situation. The 
ice crushes their ship and with it their last hope? They shoot. 
The ice-floe melts under their feet? They shoot. They shoot 
the fact that there is scarcely room left for them to set up 
the camera. 

Like the captain on his bridge, like the wireless operator at 
his set, the cameraman remains at his post to the last instant. 
The internal processes of presence of mind and observation 
are here projected outwards into the bodily action of operat- 
ing the camera. The operator sees clearly and calmly as long 
as he is shooting in this way; it is this that helps him mechanic- 
ally to preserve his consciousness, which in other circum- 
stances consists of a sequence of images in the mind. But now 
it is projected outwards and runs in the camera as a strip of 
film, which is of advantage because the camera has no nerves 
and therefore is not easily perturbed. The psychological 
process is inverted — the cameraman does not shoot as 
long as he is conscious — he is conscious as long as he is 


When a film depicts human actions, it can always be con- 
fronted with a constructed or imagined or stage-managed 
scene. If pictures of actual happenings are shown on the 
screen, the spectators must be informed of this in advance if 
they are to accept them as such; for in pictures depicting 
human beings there is nothing that could serve as authentic 
proof of the fact that what is seen on the screen is not a pic- 
ture of some artificially stage-managed scene. The technique of 
the film can make such constructed, stage-managed artificial 
pictures so deceivingly like reality that a picture of the most 
objective reality oilers no guarantees of not having been staged 
in a studio. 

Only pictures of nature without men bear the convincing 
stamp of unquestionable, authentic reality. Plants and animals 


do not pose or act in front of the camera, not even trained 

Strangely enough these absolutely authentic nature films 
often appear quite fantastic. Nothing could be more like fairy 
tales than the scientific films which show the growth of crystals 
or the wars of infusoria living in a drop of water. The explana- 
tion of this is that precisely their authentic reality makes the 
spectator feel most vividly their distance between them and 
the human sphere. For the farther away the existence presented 
in the film is from the possibility of human interference, the 
less is the possibility of its being artificial, faked, stage- 
managed. Hence the curious similarity of atmosphere between 
pictures of inaccessible nature and inaccessible fairyland. For 
although what we see is a natural phenomenon, the fact that 
we can see it at all strikes us as unnatural. That we can wit- 
ness at closest quarters the love idylls of hedgehogs or sub- 
marine fishes or the horror thriller of a battle between two 
snakes, is as exciting as the eating of forbidden fruit has ever 
been. In watching such things we feel as if we had entered a 
territory closed to man. If we are shown something that 
human beings cannot see in normal circumstances, then, as we 
nevertheless see it, we have the feeling of being invisible our- 
selves; hence the fantastic atmosphere of such nature pictures. 



The last chapter, which dealt with the attempts 
of the film to emancipate itself from literary content, from 
the story, began with the statement that this escape from 
the invented literary story developed in two opposite direc- 
tions: towards the presentation of naked facts and the pre- 
sentation of pure phenomena. On the one hand the intention 
was to show objects without form, on the other to show form 
without objects. This tendency led on the one hand to the 
cult of the documentary film and on the other to toying with 
objectless forms. 

Let us consider now the play of visual forms without liter- 
ary content. This trend elected to make the mere phenomenon, 
the bare spectacle its sole content, even when in the beginning 
it screened moving still-lives, mere visual impressions which 
were not intended to signify anything beyond their own selves 
and which did not propose to convey any new reality to 
the spectator. 

We have already shown to what extent the most objective 
presentation of reality in documentary films is subjective and 
dependent on the individual mood, philosophy and ideological 
intentions of its maker. We have shown how the reality of the 
documentary film can be made a truth or a lie at will. 

But the avantgardistes in their films very often do not show 
even reality in such a way that some truth, some meaning or 
some law can be detected in it. Pictures of visual phenomena 
torn from all context no longer contain any reality at all. If 
we see clouds drifting and flowers nodding in the wind, does 
this tell us anything about the reality of wind? It tells us 
nothing. Hence this way of presenting reality, completely with- 



out any literary constructions, in fact achieves the polar oppo- 
site of what it intends. It is not more real than any fairy-tale, 
because in it bare reality is turned into pure phenomenon and 
is diluted into a mere impression. Films presenting bare facts 
come by inexorable logic to be the most unreal, the most 
abstract of 'absolute' films. For any object by itself alone is 
always a withdrawal from reality, because without explanatory 
references to one another the things of reality are not real, 
things being not only themselves but at the same time links in 
chains of events and causalities. 

There have been such masterly reality-films as Basset's 
Market on the Wittenbergplatz. We saw lots of reality. The 
setting-up of booths. Piles of fruit baskets. People buying and 
selling. Animals, flowers, goods, garbage. The single pictures 
have neither meaning, nor reference, nor actuality. They are a 
spectacle of mere existence. An old woman combs her hair. A 
horse dips his muzzle in a bucket of water. A wet bunch of 
grapes gleams in the sunlight. We are pleased to recognize 
familiar things, to be able to say 'Yes, that's just what it looks 
like ! ' But this picture of a market is still the picture of some- 
thing objectively given, the presentation of some reality exist- 
ing in time and space, a reality which has its own independent 
being outside the picture. Our impression is that the film has 
merely shown us certain existing things. The picture has not 
absorbed the object. 


The Dutch film-maker Joris Ivens, one of the greatest 
artists of pictorial poetry, no longer wanted to show objective 
realities to the spectator. His famous impressionist films Rain 
and The Bridge do not represent either objects or facts which 
we might have possibly seen in their actual being. The specta- 
tor might in principle himself go to the Wittenbergplatz 
market and see there everything Basset photographed, even 
though possibly in less attractive form. But the rain-pictures 
of Ivens could not be seen by anyone else in any rain; at most 
he could recognize them after seeing the Ivens pictures and 
after his eyes had been sufficiently trained by them. Ivens' 


moods and impressions dematerialize their theme. Who could 
find the atmosphere of Claude Monet's paintings in actual 
nature? They do not exist outside those paintings, outside the 
experience which Monet painted into his work. Nor can one 
imagine behind Ivens' film-pictures objects that exist independ 
ently of these pictures. This is the 'absolute' film. 

The rain we see in the Ivens film is not one particular rain 
which fell somewhere, some time. These visual impressions are 
not bound into unity by any conception of time and space. 
With subtle sensitivity he has captured, not what rain really 
is, but what it looks like when a soft spring rain drips off 
leaves, the surface of a pond gets goose-flesh from the rain, 
a solitary raindrop hesitatingly gropes its way down a window- 
pane, or the wet pavement reflects the life of a city. We get a 
hundred visual impressions, but never the things themselves; 
nor do these interest us in such films. All we want to see are 
the individual, intimate, surprising optical effects. Not the 
things but these their pictures constitute our experience and 
we do not think of any objects outside the impression. There 
are in fact no concrete objects behind such pictures, which are 
images, not reproductions. 

Even when Ivens shows a bridge and tells us that it is the 
great railway bridge at Rotterdam, the huge iron structure 
dissolves into an immaterial picture of a hundred angles. The 
mere fact that one can see this one Rotterdam bridge on such 
a multitude of pictures almost robs it of its reality. It seems 
not a utilitarian bit of engineering but a series of strange 
optical effects, visual variations on a theme, and one can 
scarcely believe that a goods train could possibly pass over it. 
Every set-up has a different physiognomy, a different charac- 
ter, but none of them have anything whatever to do with 
either the purpose of the bridge or its architectural qualities. 

This style of the 'absolute' is obviously the result of an 
extreme subjectivism which is undoubtedly a form of ideo- 
logical escapism characteristic of decadent artistic cultures. 
This, however, may be admissible as a statement in the sphere 
of cultural history but it is certainly not a statement relating 
to aesthetic values. 



It is high time that an epistemology of the work of art be 
created. Up to now aesthetics have done very little in the direc- 
tion of ascertaining how great is the share of object and of 
presentation respectively in the birth of a work of art. The 
result of such an investigation is surprising enough. It appears 
that it is precisely the single object, or existence quiescent in 
its own self, which is absorbed easily and without residue in 
the presented picture and transformed into an absolute visual 
phenomenon. For in every sequence of events there is some- 
thing transcending the picture, something which does not en- 
tirely transform itself into visual presentation. This something 
is causality. We can see each phase of every happening as a 
separate entity, but that one of them causes the other is some- 
thing we can only know, something that can never appear in 
the shot as a visual picture. An isolated object complete in it- 
self, which is neither cause nor effect but merely a spectacle — 
such an object is divorced from time and space, as it is cut 
off from the chain of causality. It no longer belongs to any 
of the Kantian categories as an object, only as a picture. And 
that picture may be a spectacle or a vision and it is almost 
a matter of indifference which of the two it is. Here we have 
the immaterial theme of the absolute film. 


Such impressions as Basset or Ivens put on the screen are 
no longer presentations of some concrete reality; but they 
nevertheless have real existence as visual impressions. They 
are mere spectacles, but they can often be seen in the external 
world. A mirage is only a delusion, but as such it can naturally 
be seen. Such visual impressions are not like the visions of a 
dream nor like the images evoked in the memory, which sub- 
consciously blend into each other as figments of the mind. 
The pictures of Ivens are only pictures, but Ivens has seen 
them, some one else might have seen them too and they were 
optical phenomena susceptible of being photographed. 




Walter Ruttmann's film Berlin is quite a different story. It 
does not present really visible spectacles. In it the definite 
shape of the pictures dissolves, and flickering, merging, blurred 
shapes and outlines project an inner vision out on to the screen. 

Tramcars and jazz-bands, milk-floats and female legs, jost- 
ling street crowds and whirling wheels rise out of the fog of 
the subconscious like images seen in a half-sleep. Here the 
emphasis is no longer on the single self-contained spectacle, 
but on the total impression given by the fluctuating montage 
of the whole. The camera has turned inward as it were and its 
purpose is no longer to perpetuate an impression of the exter- 
nal world but project outward its reflection in the conscious- 
ness. This is no longer impressionism, it is expressionism. The 
impressionists, however subjectively ethereal they may have 
been, always wanted to reproduce faithfully the impressions 
they had actually received from reality. The expressionists 
want to project outwards the internal landscapes of the soul. 
Ruttmann's film could scarcely be used to guide a stranger 
arriving in Berlin for the first time. It summarizes far more the 
memories and residual moods of a traveller leaving that city. 
If nevertheless the film contains a characterization of the city, 
it is not in the shots themselves, but through their montage 
and rhythm. 

Karl Grune was the first to show in his film The Street, the 
picture of a city as it is reflected in the inner vision of a young 
man thirsting for life. In the film Shadows of Yoshiwara some- 
one goes blind and in the last flash of sight sees the colourful 
bustle of a festival. These pictures flow on to the screen with- 
out outline or shape, like the blood out of the injured eye. 

This method of presentation, first used by the absolute film, 
was developed to a high degree of expressive power in the 
dream-pictures in certain artistic feature films, where they 
were equally not intended to reproduce realities. The absolute 
film approached human psychology not only in its bodily 
manifestations, for instance in facial expressions, but attempted 
to project inner conceptions of the mind directly on to the 
screen. Of course photographing such things is not a simple 


matter. They must first be conceived by the maker of the film 
with sufficient clarity to enable him to set it up before the 
camera as a 'shootable' object. 

The absolute film had, however, no intention of permitting 
itself to be used merely as a method enabling otherwise realis- 
tic feature films to reproduce images of the soul — it had the 
ambition of becoming an independent variety of film art. It 
wanted to reproduce, not the soul in the world, but the world in 
the soul. Not the soul as it appeared on the surface of bodily 
reality in the shape of gesture, grimace, word or action, in a 
foreign medium, as an imperfect translation as it were; on 
the contrary, it strove to show introspectively the images of 
the outer world as reflected in the soul. Not the soul in the 
face but the face of the soul. And if the documentary, reality- 
bound films had no need for invented literary stories, neither 
had these mental documentaries of an internal reality. 

Cavalcanti's Montmartre, the lovely floating landscapes of 
Man Ray, Renoir, Cocteau and the other avantgardistes were 
like visions seen with closed eyes. No reality, neither space nor 
time nor causality, were valid here any longer. The mental 
processes represented in the absolute film knew only one law : 
that of the association of ideas and it is these it cut and edited 
and linked together. 


Hans Richter's Inflation is like a vision in a nightmare. Piles 
of banknotes, towers of cyphers, the empty shelves of shops, 
hungry and frightened faces, a panic on the stock exchange, 
a drunken debauch, a suicide, ticker-tape and money, money, 
money, are crammed topsy-turvy one on top of the other and 
in the turmoil of its montage there is no continuous happen- 
ing, there are no scenes taking place in front of the camera, 
not even psychologically concrete states of mind. Internal 
images are here integrated into concepts, into thoughts. 

Nevertheless even this film has a theme. It deals with some- 
thing that exists outside the film : with the inflation in Berlin, 
even though the link between the shots is purely psychological, 
not anchored in space or time or causality. 



Logic is often the vehicle for the construction of a work of 
art but never the theme to be presented. Logic is the scaffolding 
in the creation of the work, never the end in itself. 

But in its psychological presentation the work also presents 
psychology itself. We are not only interested in what is happen- 
ing in the course of a story, but even more in why and how 
it happens, in the psychological background of it. We are 
interested in the internal process of the association of ideas 
which led to the action. Such internal action, such internal 
happenings are often more important that the external. 

The film can convey such associations of ideas more com- 
pletely than the verbal arts, because words are loaded with 
too many conceptual elements, while a picture is a purely 
non-rational image. A sequence of such pictures needs no con- 
necting tissue of words. But if parallel to the sequence of 
irrational internal images and simultaneously with it we could 
hear rational and conscious words in counterpoint; if we had 
two independent manifestations running concurrently side by 
side, the film could be given a dimension of depth which 
would greatly increase its possibilities. In this I see the great 
chance of a new third period in the evolution of the film. That 
is why so much attention has been devoted here to problems 
of the absolute film. 


The surrealist films of the avantgardistes wanted to depict 
internal moods and states of mind by means of a sort of pic- 
torial hallucination. Epstein's exciting film The Fall of the 
House of Usher depicts — what? Not Edgar Allan Poe's tale, 
but only the haunting atmosphere of it and the moods and 
associations awakened in its readers. Halls without lines, un- 
certain flights of steps, dark and endless corridors, in which 
tragic shadows wander aimlessly. Doors open, curtains billow, 
hands stretch out, veils float on misty waters. These are not 
intelligible illustrations to a story, but the confused associations 
aroused by the dark impressions of a sinister tale. 


The films of Man Ray bring to the surface the associated 
picture-series of a psycho-analytical examination. They not 
only depict the process involved in the association of ideas, but 
provoke it, touch it off. The film is continued in the mind of 
the spectator, receiving only an initial directional impulse from 
the pictures seen on the screen. 

This kind of surrealism is a heightened form of subjectivism. 
The present fashionable trend of existentialism is merely a 
nuance of this. Artists frightened or weary of reality stick their 
heads into their own selves like a hunted ostrich into the sand. 
All these things are undoubtedly symptoms of decadence in a 
degenerating culture. This in itself is, however, again merely 
a statement of fact, not of aesthetic evaluation. 

Such a classifying definition by no means circumscribes all 
the possibilities of a highly developed and subtle artistic 
method. For instance it was in vain that the aesthetes of musi- 
cal theory said of atonal dissonances that they were symptoms 
of bourgeois decadence; they nevertheless served Bela Bartok 
as instruments of a new, vigorously youthful art. New palaces 
have often been built out of the stones of old ruins. The 
artistic sensibility and rich form-creating resourcefulness of the 
decadent French avantgardistes will in time serve well the new 
spirit and new soul of a new art. Now, in the third era of film 
art, in which the sound film will be enriched by the resurrected 
achievements of the once already so highly differentiated silent 
film, we shall be able to benefit much by the study of the 
absolute and surrealist films of the avantgardistes. This is why 
so much space was devoted to these problems here. 


The striving for a 'pure style' finally purged the film of 
every vestige of life, just as logic carried to its final conclusions 
makes nonsense of all human thinking. Eggeling, a Swedish 
painter invented the abstract film as long ago as 1917. Abstract 
shapes, circles, squares, waves, gratings, moving and chang- 
ing outlines dissolved into each other, no longer depicting any 
object existing in reality and not resembling any natural 
object. They existed in themselves and for themselves and if 


they signified anything at all, they signified only themselves. 

What we saw were not the forms of life, but the liberated 
life of shapes, the dance, the rhythm, the mobile ornamentality 
of lines, planes and solids. Such a dance of shapes, which its 
adherents like to call visual music, could easily be linked with 
musical rhythms. There was no clash with the resistance of the 
laws of living reality, if circles and squares were made to move 
in perfect time with the rhythm of some piece of music. 

They were the creatures of the director and he could do 
what he liked with them. This great ease, and especially the 
utterly complete, residueless, precise solutions it permitted, 
would in themselves have sufficed to destroy all artistic credit 
of such a playing with form. There was nothing here of the 
redemption of the chaotic material of life by forcing it into 
shape at the cost of a struggle, as a result of which even the 
most perfect form still retains a little of the raw tang of life. 


The making of abstract sound films was an obvious develop- 
ment. Schiffer, a Viennese, very cleverly accompanied the 
rhythms of Strauss with a dance of fines. It was a sort of 
cartoon-technique choreography and really convincing. It 
often brought out, and by its visual emphasis rendered more 
audible, the subtler, less obvious nuances of the music. 

If we apply the viewpoints of our aesthetic epistemology to 
this art form, we find that it is not as objectless as was the 
silent abstract film. Its object is the music, the tonal lines of 
which it depicts with its graphic choreography, just as the 
movements and gestures of a dancer express, and render visual 
a piece of music. It is a moving ornament which may be of 
great aesthetic value. Why should there not be such a form of 
film art? Many film-goers would derive great enjoyment from 


Effects of the abstract film were in fact used from the incep- 
tion of the silent film, in the titles. The film-makers soon dis- 


covered that the emotional effect produced by emphasis in 
the spoken word, can be indicated in the written word by the 
shape and weight of the lettering. Those who remember the 
titling of silent films may also remember that excitement, ten- 
sion, weariness, despair or passion were made visible in the 
forms of lettering, in the expressive black-and-white of the 
titles. In the days of the silent film a special, much appreciated 
and well-remunerated art had developed in this field. The 
writers of titles were important members of a film outfit and 
the part played by their pen or brush was similar to that of a 
good announcer or narrator on the wireless at the present 
time. It was an accepted convention, for instance, that alerting 
alarm-signals rushed at us from the screen with tousled letters 
rapidly increasing in size. They seemed to throw themselves 
on us, attacking our eye as a shout assaults our ear. At other 
times a slowly darkening title signified a pause full of meaning 
or a melancholy musing. Some titles were like a dash after a 
sentence instead of a full stop. In the last years of the silent 
film no better-class film was satisfied with neutral, cold letter- 
press or script for its titles. The physiognomy of the pictures 
had to be continued in the physiognomy of the lettering, in 
order to preserve the visual continuity of atmosphere. This was 
already a kind of abstract film, because it depicted not objects 
but emotions. It did not photograph or draw recognizable, 
external things but expressed moods directly without the inter- 
vention of object images. 


For the sake of the completeness of epistemological analysis 
it is to be mentioned that the theoreticians who described this 
sort of abstract art as 'visual music' merely because it is not 
a presentation but a direct expression of emotion, were quite 

They were mistaken, because 'abstract' is a correlative con- 
cept. It has meaning and content only when contrasted with 
the concrete from which it is an abstraction. For instance: 
the apple is spherical. The abstraction of this natural shape is 
a circle. But of what natural shape is music the abstraction? 


Nor is it an abstraction of natural noises, for those are of an 
entirely heterogeneous order. The circle is the abstract form 
of a spherical apple. But of what existing thing is music an 

A tune is no more abstract than is an expressive gesture of 
the limbs. It is an expressive gesture in sound. It is no more 
abstract than is architecture. The tones of the scale provide 
the concrete material out of which musical constructions are 

Music has its abstraction though — the written music, the 
score. This abstract, merely visible and thinkable music shows 
that there is a corresponding concrete, i.e. audible music. 

Abstract symbols have another remarkable quality which 
should be mentioned here. Even a minature of Mount Everest 
or of the ocean can convey the immensity of these objects. 
That is a matter for the inherent monumentality of the pre- 
sentation. But abstract forms cannot possess such inherent 
monumentality, they cannot convey dimensions greater than 
their own. A circle or a triangle conveys an impression of its 
own actual size only, and not of any greater. For if a picture 
depicts something, the depicted object may be a thousand times 
larger than the picture itself. If it depicts nothing, just exists, 
then the picture can show only itself, its own size. 



It has already been mentioned that the camera pos- 
sesses many technical means of injecting the cameraman's 
subjective viewpoint and mood into the picture of the object. 
Fades, dissolves, slow-motion, time-lapse, soft-focus, distortion, 
double-exposure and many others — these camera effects can 
express many things but they do not depict some phenomena 
of reality. They are visual indications of the thoughts and 
emotions of the film-maker and hence they can be classed as 
'absolute' film effects. 

significance of camera tricks 

For this reason the same optical trick can mean a great 
variety of different things. For instance the picture of a man 
on the screen might dissolve into a tree. This might be a 
scene in a fairy-tale, and in that case it would mean a miracle, 
or rather a piece of magic. But such dissolves are often used 
in the film to mark a simple change of location. Just now we 
have seen a man in a room and the next minute the story is 
continued in a forest. In such cases the dissolve means that a 
deeper connection is suggested between the two objects : man 
and tree. But if I see a man-into-tree dissolve in a dream 
sequence or a sequence indicating a train of associations, then 
I regard it only as a presentation of an associative process. 
Fourthly such a dissolve may be merely a form of joke and 
nothing else. 

In the first case, that of magic, the change-over is a real hap- 
pening, only it is real in a fairy-tale sense, not a natural sense. 
In the second case, when the dissolve is intended to convey a 



mental process, a subconscious association of ideas, the 
change-over is a natural process, but not an objectively real 
happening. If again — this is the third case — we see such a 
dissolve in a realistic film, then it does not depict either a 
fairy-tale happening or a mental process, but just means some 
connection between the two objects, i.e. has a definite meaning. 
Finally in the fourth case, the burlesque, it indicates the exact 
opposite of the previous : it is absurd, nonsensical. 

Every optical trick can have many meanings. Which of 
the many possible meanings adheres to it depends on the con- 
nection into which the strip binds it. It is always the whole 
which imparts a definite meaning to the details. Out of the 
potentially-fraught possibilities of the latent meanings in a 
single shot, the neighbouring shots select the one or the other. 
Only in editing is the shot given its definite final meaning. 


However greatly a mirror may distort a face, such distortion 
still remains a natural phenomenon, because it arises in accord- 
ance with known optical laws. This is true even if the distorting 
mirror be called 'the soul'. 

But a mask is not a distorted face. It is not confronted with 
a supposed normal face, the face which we still see (even if in 
a changed form), in the distorted version. A mask does not 
presuppose two forms and between them a difference which 
expresses the tension that was the cause of the transformation 
of the one form into the other. A bent stick may depict the 
action of some force — a drawing of a semicircle cannot do this. 

Puppets and silhouettes as objects for the camera are 
already works of art in their own right — it is not the camera 
that makes them so. In most cases the camera merely re- 
produces them — I say 'in most cases', because the camera may 
of course increase a hundredfold the expression carved into 
the puppet's face. But silhouettes or drawings cannot be 
developed any further by means of camera angle or set-up. In 
these the film is merely a technique of moving and showing 
what is there, although the rhythm of cutting may be more 
perfect than the technique of a real puppet-show would permit. 

MASKS 187 

Such films do not give form to life — they give life to forms. 

Good visual stories in which the characters are dolls or 
drawings are not 'literary', because the story does not begin 
with the invention of a plot but with the devising of the 
shapes of the visual beings who are to act in it. Their appear- 
ance already tells a story. The fairy-tale quality of such films 
is determined in the first instance by what the characters look 
like, not what they do. Visual imagination is what inspires 
and weaves these stories. The visual fairy-tale world which 
they open to us is in the main a world of shapes different from 
those in our own world. Here are not miracles enacted in our 
world, miracles which infringe the laws of our own world. 
Rather we are given a glimpse of another world, a world in 
which other laws run and other shapes are normal, a closed 
world in which everything happens according to rule, only 
that the rules are not the same as in our world. 

For this reason such puppet stories must develop logically 
from the shape and nature of the actors. It would be out of 
keeping to make dolls play human parts. Dolls have the fate 
of dolls : if the china shepherdess tumbles off the mantelpiece, 
she must break to pieces and the leg of the lead soldier must 
melt if it falls into the fire. This is what makes such a story 
conform to its material. 

The same applies to silhouettes. The power which rules their 
destinies is not psychology, not even optics, but a pair of 
scissors. If the story evolves smoothly from their form, then 
it is not literary'; and strictly speaking this would be the true 
'absolute' film. The adventures of forms come to life have a 
severe logic of their own. In it cause and effect are determined 
by the law of form and not by the laws of nature. If one of 
the characters attacks another with a paintbrush and paints a 
hump on to its back, that character will, alas, be and remain a 
hunchback. And if the silhouette of a man wielding the silhou- 
ette of a pair of scissors cuts out of the silhouette of rock the 
silhouette of another human being, he will have created a 
partner equivalent to himself and in the silhouette world this 
is no miracle, because in the world of silhouettes the normal 
way of coming into being is to be cut out with a pair of 
scissors. So everything has happened in accordance with the 


formal law and logic of that formal world. In this lies its 
comic effect. 

That is why films like the Russian Gulliver-film in which 
live human figures were combined with puppets, are rather 
problematic. This film, produced by A. Ptushko, is an allegory, 
just as Swift's immortal story is an allegory. In art and litera- 
ture the allegory looks back on a millenary tradition and from 
JEsop to La Fontaine and Swift it has formed part of the classic 
gold fund of world literature. But these fables depict human 
characters and human psychology disguised under the masks 
of animals or what not. Although the characters are called a 
raven, a fox, a tortoise or a hare in the written story, this does 
not evoke visual conceptions in the first place and therefore 
the contradictions between the animals and their human psy- 
chology are not inacceptable. 

If these same animals were visible as the realistic pictures 
of real live animals, then the complete incongruity between 
such beings, existing in their own right, and the things they 
are made to say and do in the story would be painfully evi- 
dent. If on the other hand they were to be presented in a less 
realistic form, as mere indicative illustrations, then they would 
be turned into symbols, emblems standing for something else 
than they are, empty hieroglyphs. 

An allegory can become sensory art (and all art is sensory) 
only to the degree in which it can approximate the naive 
realism of the folk-tale. Characters in a true fairy-tale live a 
real life, only they live it according to the laws sui generis of 
the fairy-tale world and not according to the laws of our 
earthly nature. An allegory on the contrary is not realistic in 
any way at all. It may express a truth, but not depict a reality; 
neither a natural reality, nor a fairy-tale reality, nor any 
reality at all. It is for this reason that allegories appear blood- 
less, empty stereotypes which not even the profoundest truths 
can endow with life. This applies especially to the allegory 
in the sensory arts. 



The secret of the true film comedy is that in it the pheno- 
menon parts company with the object and leads a sort of 
ghost-like life of its own, free of all meaning and content. 
Comic films played by human actors have an inner law of their 
own, consisting in a complete lack of logic which is in itself 
comical. Even the most realistically photographed nature can 
suddenly be rendered funny by some optical trick. In Hans 
Richter's Haunted Morning there are six gentlemen whose 
hats are blown off by a wind. The hats circle in the air like a 
swarm of birds and cannot be caught. The same six gentlemen 
then steal away and hide behind a slender lamp-post and dis- 
appear as completely as though the lamp-post was a wall. Then 
we see a long perspective shot of a garden; suddenly a door 
opens in the middle of it, as though the garden had been a 
papered wall and the six gentlemen turn up again, coming 
through it. All this has no sense whatsoever and contains no 
other intention than to be funny through being nonsensical. 

In another film men who are having a fight are caught up 
by a whirlwind and go on fighting in the air without appearing 
to notice that they are no longer on the ground. All this 
seems the work of the whirlwind, not of the camera. The 
camera does nothing but shoot. Its work is discreet and invi- 
sible. The film merely makes use of its technical facilities in 
order to show us a fantastic happening. 


When a picture is no longer a copy of something and the 
image no longer evokes in us a reference to some object inde- 
pendent of it, which it represents and which might just as well 
have been represented in some other way — if thus the picture 
appears to have an autonomous existence, a final reality, to be 
as it were self-contained, then it acquires that grotesquely im- 
material lightness which makes even the most terrible happen- 
ings seem entirely harmless. The hero of such a film comedy 
may lie down on the rails in front of an express train and we 
shall not be afraid, for what can happen to a picture if it is run 


over by another picture? All that can happen to it is that it 
will be flattened out like a silhouette cut out of paper. Never 
mind. A pal of his comes along and blows him up again like a 
fairground toy balloon. A bit too much of a pal, though, for 
he blows so hard that he makes his friend twice as fat as he 
was before. 

This weightless, material-less freedom from danger was the 
essence of this old-style film comedy. For in the funniest 
written story there is still the possibility that a man may 
die, a thing may be destroyed. But a picture can only be 
rubbed out, painted over, dissolved or faded out, but never 


In the apsychological, mechanical hurly-burly of the old 
American slapstick comedy the whimsical, clever waggery of 
camera tricks played a great part. The figures being entirely 
the creations of the camera without any weight and law of 
their own, the camera could do with them what it pleased. On 
the other hand the lack of psychology in the old American 
slapstick is the cause and explanation of the fact that such 
films very rarely exceeded the length of a single reel. Mechani- 
cal action is not suitable for ringing the changes. However fast 
may be the movement shown in rough-and-tumbles or pursuits, 
there is no inner movement in them at all, for whatever may 
have been the cause of the fight or pursuit, it remains the 
same, unchanged, to the end and therefore is the manifestation 
of an unchanged inner condition. 

The funny point in these films was always that they could 
suddenly and unexpectedly find a mechanical solution for 
some apparently insoluble situation. But such grotesquely sur- 
prising suddenness offers no opportunity for developing a 
slowly rising tension. The unexpected, of which we have no 
knowledge, cannot produce tension. Only expectation and pre- 
sentiment can bind events together into a dramatic action 
which by its progressive unfolding keeps our interest awake 
for longer periods than the span of the one-reeler. On the 
other hand expectation and presentiment can arise in the spec- 
tator only if he feels that there is a causal connection between 


the scenes he witnesses. For he can only expect things to 
come to pass which follow from what has already been 
seen to happen. Only the present can causally evoke a pre- 
monition of the future. But surprise is not susceptible of 
degrees. Even in a fairy-tale one can to some extent tell in 
advance what might happen to man or beast in the course of 
the story. But what can happen to mere lines and patches of 
light and shadow is something no one can foresee. 


At the beginning of this book I told the story of the painter 
in the Chinese legend who walked into his own painting and 
never came back. That was a very simple case. What hap- 
pened was simply that the old Chinaman had created reality 
with his paintbrush, not art. This was the Chinese belief: 
everything is what it seems, there is no difference between 
appearance and reality. Well-painted dragons would fly away. 

The natural history of the cartoon film is not as simple as 
this. It first manifested itself in Felix the Cat, the ancestor of 
this admirable art form. Its originator was the brilliant Pat 
Sullivan who created that amazing world, of which the prime 
mover and omnipotent ruler is the pencil or paintbrush. The 
substance of this world is the line and it reaches to the boun- 
daries that enclose the graphic art. Drawings such as these do 
not transform themselves into a natural reality, which their 
creator might enter like the Chinese painter his landscape. For 
this world is peopled only by being drawn with pencil or pen. 
Their outlines do not depict a shape existing independently 
somewhere outside this world, but form their only actual body. 
Appearance is not transformed into reality here as in the 
Chinese story. Appearance is the sole reality here, and art is 
not made into reality. Indeed the Sullivan cartoons knew 
nothing of this duality. When Felix the Cat bends his tail into 
the shape of a wheel, he can already roll away on it. No need 
for it to turn into the reality of a wheel. A drawn wheel is 
good enough for a drawn cat. In Sullivan's drawn world there 
are no miracles; for in it there are only lines and these func- 
tion according to the shape they take on. 


Felix the Cat once loses his tail. He wonders what to do about 
it. This anxious question grows out of his head in the shape of a 
large question mark, demonstrating by graphic means that he 
is torn by doubts. Felix now gazes pensively at the beautifully 
curved question mark. He has a bright idea, grabs the question 
mark and sticks it to his rump for a new tail. The problem is 
solved. Someone might object to such impossibilities that the 
question mark was only an abstract symbol! But it appeared 
in the cartoon as a line and as such subject to the laws of 
draughtsmanship and none other. The question mark was a 
line, just like Felix's body, their substance was the same. In the 
world of creatures consisting only of lines the only impossible 
things are those which cannot be drawn. 

In the case of drawings the creative power of angle and set- 
up plays an even smaller part than in the case of puppets. 
Looked at from different viewpoints even a mask can be made 
to assume different physiognomies. But drawings are two- 
dimensional and the film can do no more than reproduce 
them. What then is the nevertheless productive part played by 
the camera in the cartoon film? 

It is that the film shows not only completed drawings but 
can show the coming into being of the drawing as a process, 
as an event. The lines emerge before our eyes, they happen. 
They are not graphic facts, but graphic events. 

The natural style of such cartoons is the caricature, the gro- 
tesque. But the drawn film demands unity of style even more 
imperatively than does the realistic photography of some real 
object. A condition of such unity of style is that the draughts- 
man should see every figure from the viewpoint of some ideo- 
logy; for all the figures must be equally absurd or funny. Such 
a film may for instance be a political satire, but in that case it 
can show only the political opponents of the draughtsman's 
side. For the draughtsman cannot draw the figures of his own 
side as caricatures in the same way; if on the other hand he 
draws them differently, then there is a discrepancy, an infringe- 
ment of style in the picture. 

George Grosz, the great German revolutionary cartoonist 
had to struggle hard with this dilemma. His portrait-gallery of 
caricatures entitled The Face of the Ruling Classes was mag- 


nificently horrible and nauseating. But if he had to put a pro- 
letarian into one of his drawings, he did not know what to do. 
He did not want to draw a satirical caricature of him, for that 
was not how he saw and wanted to show the working man. On 
the other hand could he mix his witheringly sarcastic mon- 
strosities with figures drawn with a gentle, affectionate touch? 

Only one solution seems possible here : to use the style of 
children's drawings, a device often adopted by many a mature 
master. In such drawings the distortion is motivated by the 
child's lack of skill and this serves as an excuse for making 
the figures which are intended to arouse sympathy just as 
funny as the others. 

With the coming of sound, possibilities of a new acoustic 
humour and of a new extraordinary musical artistry opened 
up before the cartoon film. This new form of art, of which 
Walt Disney is the undisputed king, will be discussed later in 
connection with the specific problems of the sound film. 





Being a prophet is a hard fate. At times a prophet 
can go on living and working only if he does not believe in his 
own prophecies. When the technique of the sound film struck 
the first blow at the art of the silent film, I said that it would 
destroy the already highly developed culture of the silent film. 
I added that this would be only temporary, until expression by 
means of sound would have developed to a higher level. I said 
that what had happened was a catastrophe, the like of which 
had never occurred before in the history of any other art. But 
I also said that a return to the silent film was impossible, for 
the evolution of technique is the evolution of the productive 
forces of mankind and the dangers it brings in its train can- 
not be averted by hampering its development. That would be 
senseless machine-wrecking. We cannot protect people from 
impending suffering by killing them. 

When nearly two decades ago the first attempts at a sound 
film were shown, I wrote in my book Der Geist des Films that 
sound was not yet a gain for the film, but merely a task which 
would be an immense gain once it was fulfilled. This would 
be when film sound would be as docile and adaptable a 
medium as the film picture already was; when the sound strip 
will have turned from a technique of reproduction to a creative 
art, as the picture strip had already done. 

Now, two decades later, I must repeat word for word the 
relevant chapter from Der Geist des Films. What I then fore- 
told as a threat, is now already accomplished fact. On the 
other hand what we hoped and expected from the sound film 
has not been fulfilled. The art of the silent film is dead, but 
its place was taken by the mere technique of the sound film 



which in twenty years has not risen and evolved into an art. 
On the whole the film has reverted again to a speaking photo- 
graphed theatre. No question but that it is often very well 
photographed very good theatre. The development of the new 
technique has served the old art well. But the new technique 
has not like the silent film developed into a new art, revealing 
new spheres of human experience and based on new principles. 
I said 'on the whole'. For there have been and are certain 
signs that the independent acoustic manifestation of the sound 
film is not dead yet and that this abortive great possibility 
of human culture, this potentiality is still seeking its own 
forms of expression and has broken through now and then 
between the pores of some recent films. 


Was an almost useless standstill of nearly two decades really 
necessary in order to prove by drastic experience the correct- 
ness of this forecast? Did we have to pass along this blind 
alley in order to convince ourselves that it is a blind alley? 
Well, I believe in the continuity of development. I believe that 
even this was not time lost. It is the job of the theoretician to 
discover whether this standstill was not apparent only. But 
only a resumed development will be able to show what it owes 
to the past. 

It is certain that in the reviving film culture of a Europe 
recovering from the second world war, the dissatisfaction with 
the sound film in its present state has become so universally 
felt that the voice of the theoretician may now meet with a 
better response. The time has come for an art of the sound 
ifilm and hence the time has also come for a theory that is still 
valid to-day to attempt to render conscious and transform into 
will and purpose something that is now merely an instinctive 


Two decades ago I wrote: Tn its last years the German 
film really began to develop rapidly. But then another depar- 

196 SOUND 

ture, the sound film, stopped it before it had progressed more 
than half-way. The picture camera had only just started to 
acquire sensitive nerves and an imagination of its own. The 
art of set-up, viewpoint, angle and editing had just reached 
the stage where it could overcome the material resistance of 
primitive objectivity. The silent film was just about to develop 
a psychological subtlety and creative power almost unrivalled 
in any other art. Then the invention of the sound film came 
down on it like a landslide. The whole rich culture of the 
silent film which I have described in the preceding chapters, 
is now in danger. An undeveloped medium of expression, 
hitched to a highly developed one, will drag the latter back to 
a rudimentary condition. And it is inevitable that with the 
lowering of the level of expression the level of content will 
equally deteriorate. 

'But in history there are no mortal tragedies, only crises, in 
matters which concern the whole human race. This, too, is a 
new road which has blocked up the old. In the economic 
sphere, too, every great new technical invention brought crises 
and catastrophes — but nevertheless served the advancement 
of humanity. 

Tn art every technical innovation is an inspiration. Oppor- 
tunity is the true muse. It was not the painters who invented 
paint, and hammer and chisel were necessities before men 
began to carve statues. The cinematographic camera, too, 
was in existence before it occurred to someone to use it as 
the instrument of a new art and a new culture. The instrument 
must precede the artistic purpose it awakens. Only after such 
an awakening does the dialectical process of development 
begin, in which the now conscious purpose seeks more new 
technical possibilities of expression. From this point onwards 
it is art that determines the direction and tasks of technical 
development in accordance with its own needs. Why do th^ 
first sound films strike us as ridiculous and embarrassing 
"Kitsch"? Because we already judge by the standards not of 
their present performance but of their possibilities and promise. 
Our aversion signifies not rejection but an impatient demand. 



Tt is this demand which grants recognition to the sound 
film as a new great art. The demand is that the sound film 
should not merely contribute sound to the silent film and thus 
make it even more like nature, but that it should approach 
the reality of life from a totally different angle and open up 
a new treasure-house of human experience. We do not as yet 
demand from the incipient sound film any technical perfection 
of performance, but we do demand new themes. What interests 
us in the first place is not how it sounds, but what it is that it 
endows with the power of vocal expression. 

Tor if the sound film will merely speak, make music and 
imitate sounds as the theatre has already done for some thou- 
sands of years, then even at the peak of its technical perfec- 
tion it will remain nothing but a copying device. But in art 
only that counts for a discovery which discovers, reveals some- 
thing hitherto hidden from our eyes — or ears. 

'The silent film, when it became an art, discovered for us 
an unknown visual world. It showed us the face of things, 
the mimicry of nature and the microdramatics of physiog- 
nomy. In the sequence of shots produced by editing a hitherto 
hidden interrelation of figures and movements was revealed 
to us and the linking of pictures evoked new powerful trains 
of association. 


'It is the business of the sound film to reveal for us our 
acoustic environment, the acoustic landscape in which we 
live, the speech of things and the intimate whisperings of 
nature; all that has speech beyond human speech, and speaks 
to us with the vast conversational powers of life and inces- 
santly influences and directs our thoughts and emotions, from 
the muttering of the sea to the din of a great city, from the 
roar of machinery to the gentle patter of autumn rain on a 
window-pane. The meaning of a floor-board creaking in a 
deserted room, a bullet whistling past our ear, the death-watch 
beetle ticking in old furniture and the forest spring tinkling 

198 SOUND 

over the stones. Sensitive lyrical poets always could hear these 
significant sounds of life and describe them in words. It is for 
the sound film to let them speak to us more directly from the 


'The sounds of our day-to-day fife we hitherto perceived 
merely as a confused noise, as a formless mass of din, rather 
as an unmusical person may listen to a symphony; at best he 
may be able to distinguish the leading melody, the rest will 
fuse into a chaotic clamour. The sound film will teach us 
to analyse even chaotic noise with our ear and read the score 
of life's symphony. Our ear will hear the different voices in 
the general babble and distinguish their character as manifes- 
tations of individual life. It is an old maxim that art saves us 
from chaos. The arts differ from each other in the specific kind 
of chaos which they fight against. The vocation of the sound 
film is to redeem us from the chaos of shapeless noise by 
accepting it as expression, as significance, as meaning.' 

Twenty years have passed since I wrote down these condi- 
tions. The sound film has left them unfulfilled to this day. The 
arts did not accede to my theoretical wishes. During its evolu- 
tion the human spirit has had many a fair prospect open up 
before it, which the great highroad of human culture then by- 
passed and left behind. No art exploits all its possibilities, and 
not only aesthetic factors influence the choice of the road that 
is ultimately followed in preference to many possible others. 
And I would not have repeated this my old demand if the 
sound film had since advanced farther along another road. But 
it has advanced nowhere. What twenty years ago was oppor- 
tunity and perspective, is still perspective and opportunity to- 
day. I quote: 

'Only when the sound film will have resolved noise into its 
elements, segregated individual, intimate voices and made them 
speak to us separately in vocal, acoustic close-ups; when these 
isolated detail-sounds will be collated again in purposeful 
order by sound-montage, will the sound film have become a 
new art. When the director will be able to lead our ear as he 
could once already lead our eye in the silent film and by 


means of such guidance along a series of close-ups will be 
able to emphasize, separate and bring into relation with each 
other the sounds of life as he has done with its sights, then 
the rattle and clatter of life will no longer overwhelm us in a 
lifeless chaos of sound. The sound camera will intervene in 
this chaos of sound, form it and interpret it and then it will 
again be man himself who speaks to us from the sound screen. 


The genuine sound film which has a style of its own will 
not be satisfied with making audible the speech of human 
beings, which in the past has been only visible, nor will it 
rest content with an acoustic presentation of events. Sound 
will not merely be a corollary to the picture, but the subject, 
source and mover of the action. In other words it will become 
a dramaturgical element in the film. For instance, sounds will 
not merely be an accompaniment to a duel but possibly its 
cause as well. The audible clash of blades may be of less im- 
portance — because devoid of a dramaturgical function — than 
perhaps a song heard coming from a garden by the listening 
rivals and occasioning a quarrel between them. Such sounds 
would be essential elements of the story. There is no reason 
why a sound should be less apt to provoke action than a sight 
would be.' 

The first sound films were still intent on exploiting these 
special possibilities of sound. At that time a film operetta was 
made in Berlin. In it a young composer absolutely has to pro- 
duce a new valse before the end of the coming day. He racks 
his brains and can find nothing suitable. Then through a mis- 
take an unknown girl comes to his room. The result of the 
sudden and unexpected adventure is the birth of a valse. The 
composer plays it on the piano and the girl sings it. But the 
musician's unknown muse vanishes as she had come and the 
composer again forgets the tune which he had no time to write 
down. Only the unknown girl might possibly remember it. So 
the composer puts a want ad. in the paper : 'The young lady, 
who . . .' After some naive, even inane complications all turn- 
ing on the melody, the valse finally brings the lovers together 

200 SOUND 

again. Here was a proper plot for a sound film. The found, 
lost and recovered valse had a dramaturgical, action-moving 
part to play. 


In the story mentioned in the preceding paragraph, the lost 
and found melody was, however, allotted a role such as might 
have been played by any other object. It was a mere 'prop' in 
the weft of the dramatic plot, no different than a ring or a 
document which might have been lost and found and around 
which the plot might have been woven just as well. The valse 
in this case is merely presented as a fact; no significance 
attaches to its specific acoustic quality and effect. For this 
reason it is the most superficial form in which sound can be 
given a dramaturgical function in a story. 

Deeper and more organic is the dramaturgical role of sound 
when its effect determines the course of the action; when 
sound is not only made to be heard in the course of the story 
but can intervene to influence its course. I take an instance 
from an old silent film, or rather I am inventing an instance 
in order that fight might be thrown on yet another problem 
in the same sphere. 

In the early days of the silent film, a film was made 
about Paganini, with Conrad Veidt in the title role. The 
wizard fiddler is put in prison but he fiddles himself out again. 
His playing is bewitching — the enchanted turnkeys get out of 
his path and his violin paralyses all resistance to his escape. 
The crowd outside, charmed by his music, opens a path for 
the fiddler and his fiddle. 

In this film the inaudible playing of a violin had a drama- 
turgical function, because it influenced the hero's fate, freed 
him from his prison. As a spectacle it was a fine and con- 
vincing scene, precisely because it was silent! The dumbshow 
of a great actor made us imagine violin-playing so enchanting 
that hardened jailers dropped their weapons. How great a 
virtuoso would have been required to play the violin in a 
sound film in order to achieve this? A merely visible, inaudible 
music, existing only in the imagination, could have a magic 


effect. The effect of actually heard music would depend on the 
public's musical sensibility and taste, a quantity susceptible of 
innumerable variations. But to make it credible that music did 
actually charm the rough jailers, it would have to have a 
like effect on the whole of the audience. It is not by chance 
that the sound film has not yet touched the Paganini theme. 

Petersburg Night, made by the Russian Grigori Roshal, also 
has a musician hero. Here the varying effect on the audience is 
not due to the quality of the playing, but to the nature of the 
music played. The Russian violinist plays folk songs and the 
society ladies and gentlemen in the best seats do not like it 
and boo, while the poorer patrons in the gallery are enthusias- 
tic. Just as the scene mentioned in connection with the 
Paganini film was possible only in a silent film, so the scene 
from the Russian film is possible only in a sound film, for we 
must hear the songs and experience their spirit in order to 
know why they delight one part of the audience and infuriate 
the other. This scene characterizes not only the music but the 
audience listening to it and in addition to its dramaturgical 
function, it also has a profound ideological significance. 


But not only music can have a dramaturgical function in a 
sound film. For instance: a sailor is saying good-bye to his 
family. His wife, rocking a cradle, begs him to stay at home. 
But the sea, the great rival for his affections, is visible through 
the window. The sailor hesitates. Then two sounds are heard, 
like two rival seducers. A soft lullaby sung by the woman and 
the summoning murmur of the sea. In the picture one now 
sees only the sailor, and of him only his face, but it shows 
the conflict in his mind, the hard struggle within himself, 
evoked by these two sounds, these two calls. It is a dramatic, 
fate-deciding scene in which not a word is spoken. The 
woman's lullaby and the voice of the sea fight a duel here for 
possession of a soul. 

202 SOUND 


Sometimes the dramaturgical role of sound is indirect. A 
soldier is taking leave from a girl. The battlefield is near and 
the noise of bursting shells can be heard. The scene of leave- 
taking might have been shot without acoustic accompaniment. 
But it would certainly have taken a different turn. For the 
girl, starting at every shell-burst, influenced by the pictures 
conjured up by the danger, makes admissions which she would 
certainly not have made in a comfortable, safe, cosy room, 
or possibly not even have become conscious of them at all. 


The young film production of Italy uses very fine, interest- 
ing dramaturgical sound effects, showing thereby once more 
that it is in the first rank of those who are now striving to re- 
create the film as an art. In Luigi Zampa's excellent anti- 
Fascist film Vivere in pace the great central scene is built 
upon purely acoustic effects. A German corporal comes to the 
house of the Italian peasant who is harbouring a wounded 
American negro soldier. The negro must be hidden away 
quickly. In their hurry they can find no better place than 
the wine-cellar. The German is feeling very comfortable, how- 
ever, and stays on and on and cannot be induced to go. He 
asks for food and drink. He wants to have a good time. The 
Italian peasant and his family sit silent and yawning, trying 
to get rid of the German by boredom. But suddenly funny 
noises are heard from the wine-cellar. The negro, tired of being 
shut up in the cold and dark, has broached a cask of wine and 
got drunk. The German pricks up his ears. Suddenly the 
Italian peasants break into noisy cheerfulness, in order to 
drown the dangerous noise. The drunken negro smashes up 
everything in the cellar. The gentle, sober old peasant and his 
elderly wife begin to shout songs, yell, and dance and drag 
the German into a noisy debauch. They compete desperately 
with the noises from the cellar. What follows is a battle be- 
tween noises, a diabolical scene, which grows all the more 
exciting as the negro who has run amok in the cellar, is trying 


to get out of there and is kicking and battering at the door. 
The shadow of death falls on the breathless, feverish merri- 
ment. Finally the negro breaks down the door and the revelry, 
as if cut in two, suddenly freezes into mute stiff immobility. 

Even more moving is Vergano's sound scene in the film 
// Sole Sorge Ancora. A priest, a member of the Resistance 
who has been condemned to death is being taken to the scene 
of execution by the Germans. A crowd collects along the road. 
The crowd grows even larger, the ring surrounding the priest 
ever denser. The priest begins to pray, first softly, then more 
loudly, as he walks along. The camera follows with a tracking 
shot. The priest remains visible all the time, but of the crowd 
never more than two or three faces are seen, as the priest and 
the camera pass them. The priest is reciting the litany. Two 
or three of the crowd whisper the response : 'Ora pro nobis'. 
But as the priest walks on and on, the response grows ever 
louder. We see not more than two or three people, but we hear 
ever more and more, in an ominous crescendo. The shot re- 
mains a close-up all the time and can show no crowd, but more 
and more voices say 'Ora pro nobis'. We hear the swelling of 
the sound like the roaring of a torrent. It is the audible revolt 
of the people; its menacing power and emotion turns into a 
formidable acoustic symbol, precisely because we cannot see 
the crowd. If we saw the crowd, then the storm of voices 
would be explained, for the voices of so many people could 
scarcely be less loud. But then the sound would lose its parti- 
cular significance. For never could the film show a crowd of 
such a size as the crowd the presence of which we are made 
to feel in that isolated, symbolic sound not contained by any 
real space. This is the voice of the nation and nevertheless we 
hear it in the close-up of the martyr-priest, as an answer to 
the mute play of his features. 

I do not say that such a decisive dramaturgical role of 
sound is indispensable for every sound film. As the silent film 
has ceased to exist, the sound film must operate with many 
different kinds of stories. The sound film to-day is not a 
specific form of film, but the whole of what there is of the 
film and hence the specific style of one sort of film cannot be 
obligatory for it. It must present everything that comes along 

204 SOUND 

Nevertheless it is a pity that the sound film has almost com- 
pletely dropped the cultivation of sound effects. 


This is a good opportunity to discuss the form problem of 
the sound play in general. Wireless plays are impossible with- 
out verbal explanations and descriptions of the scene. We can- 
not understand even words in their exact sense if we cannot 
see the facial expression and gestures of those who speak. For 
the spoken word contains only a fragment of human expres- 
sion. People talk not only with their mouths. The glance, a 
twitching of a muscle in the face, movements of the hands 
speak at the same time and only all of them together add up 
to the exact shade of meaning intended. The word is merely 
one of the tones in a rich chord, so we do not understand even 
the word in its precise meaning if we cannot see who said 
it and when, in what circumstances and connection. As for the 
sounds of nature we know them so little that we often fail 
even to recognize them unless we see what is emitting them. A 
farmhouse may at a pinch be represented by voices of animals. 
But even then the listener will not be able to say whether the 
mooing of cows, neighing of horses, crowing of cocks, cackling 
of hens, barking of dogs is a sound picture of some bucolic 
farm or of a livestock market. Even recognizable sounds 
merely indicate the generality of the things they stand for. But 
the life of all image-art is in the concrete, exact presentation 
of the individuality of things. 

But the rustling of a forest or the noise of the sea cannot 
always be distinguished — in fact the rustling of paper or the 
dragging of a sack along a stone floor are deceptively similar 
to both. Our ear is not yet sufficiently sensitive. It is the sound 
film that will train it, just as the silent film trained our eye. A 
hunter would recognize sounds in the forest which the city- 
dweller would not. But on the whole most of us would not 
even find our way about in our own homes if we had to rely 
on our ears alone. 

For this reason radio plays always explain in one way or 
another what we are supposed to see, so that the sounds in it 


are merely acoustic illustrations of a narrated scene or a scene 
made intelligible by words. 


In a sound film there is no need to explain the sounds. We 
see together with the word the glance, the smile, the gesture, 
the whole chord of expression, the exact nuance. Together with 
the sounds and voices of things we see their physiognomy. The 
noise of a machine has a different colouring for us if we see 
the whirling machinery at the same time. The sound of a 
wave is different if we see its movement. Just as the shade and 
value of a colour changes according to what other colours are 
next to it in a painting, so the timbre of a sound changes in 
accordance with the physiognomy or gesture of the visible 
source of the sound seen together with the sound itself in a 
sound film in which acoustic and optical impressions are 
equivalently linked together into a single picture. 

In a radio play the stage has to be described in words, be- 
cause sound alone is not space-creating. 


Silence, too, is an acoustic effect, but only where sounds 
can be heard. The presentation of silence is one of the most 
specific dramatic effects of the sound film. No other art can 
reproduce silence, neither painting nor sculpture, neither litera- 
ture nor the silent film could do so. Even on the stage silence 
appears only rarely as a dramatic effect and then only for short 
moments. Radio plays cannot make us feel the depths of 
silence at all, because when no sounds come from our set, the 
whole performance has ceased, as we cannot see any silent 
continuation of the action. The sole material of the wireless 
play being sound, the result of the cessation of sound is not 
silence but just nothing. 


Things that we see as being different from each other, appear 
even more different when they emit sounds. They all sound 

206 SOUND 

different when they do this, but they are all silent in the same 
way. There are thousands of different sounds and voices, but 
the substance of silence appears one and the same for all. That 
is at first hearing. Sound differentiates visible things, silence 
brings them closer to each other and makes them less dis- 
similar. Every painting shows this happy harmony, the hidden 
common language of mute things conversing with each other, 
recognizing each others' shapes and entering into relations 
with each other in a composition common to them all. This 
was a great advantage the silent film had over the sound film. 
For its silence was not mute; it was given a voice in the back- 
ground music, and landscapes and men and the objects sur- 
rounding them were shown on the screen against this common 
musical background. This made them speak a common silent 
language and we could feel their irrational conversation in the 
music which was common to them all. 

But the silent film could reproduce silence only by round- 
about means. On the theatrical stage cessation of the dialogue 
does not touch off the great emotional experience of silence, 
because the space of the stage is too small for that, and the 
experience of silence is essentially a space experience. 

How do we perceive silence? By hearing nothing? That is 
a mere negative. Yet man has few experiences more positive 
than the experience of silence. Deaf people do not know what 
it is. But if a morning breeze blows the sound of a cock crow- 
ing over to us from the neighbouring village, if from the top 
of a high mountain we hear the tapping of a woodcutter's axe 
far below in the valley, if we can hear the crack of a whip a 
mile away — then we are hearing the silence around us. We feel 
the silence when we can hear the most distant sound or the 
slightest rustle near us. Silence is when the buzzing of a fly 
on the window-pane fills the whole room with sound and the 
ticking of a clock smashes time into fragments with sledge- 
hammer blows. The silence is greatest when we can hear very 
distant sounds in a very large space. The widest space is our 
own if we can hear right across it and the noise of the alien 
world reaches us from beyond its boundaries. A completely 
soundless space on the contrary never appears quite concrete, 
and quite real to our perception; we feel it to be weightless 


and unsubstantial, for what we merely see is only a vision. 
We accept seen space as real only when it contains sounds as 
well, for these give it the dimension of depth. 

On the stage, a silence which is the reverse of speech may 
have a dramaturgical function, as for instance if a noisy com- 
pany suddenly falls silent when a new character appears; but 
such a silence cannot last longer than a few seconds, other- 
wise it curdles as it were and seems to stop the performance. 
On the stage, the effect of silence cannot be drawn out or made 
to last. 

In the film, silence can be extremely vivid and varied, for 
although it has no voice, it has very many expressions and 
gestures. A silent glance can speak volumes; its soundlessness 
makes it more expressive because the facial movements of a 
silent figure may explain the reason for the silence, make us 
feel its weight, its menace, its tension. In the film, silence 
does not halt action even for an instant and such silent action 
gives even silence a living face. 

The physiognomy of men is more intense when they are 
silent. More than that, in silence even things drop their masks 
and seem to look at you with wide-open eyes. If a sound 
film shows us any object surrounded by the noises of every- 
day life and then suddenly cuts out all sound and brings it 
up to us in isolated close-up, then the physiognomy of that 
object takes on a significance and tension that seems to pro- 
voke and invite the event which is to follow. 


If dramaturgy is the teaching about the laws of dramatic 
action, is it possible to speak about dramaturgy in connection 
with a single shot? Does not the most energetic action mani- 
fest itself only in the sequence, in the interrelation of varying 
conditions following each other? Well, the film has nothing 
to do with the classic problem of the ancient Greek philoso- 
phers who asked whether movement consisted of a series of 
distinct conditions and whether a series of static conditions 
could ever become motion. For although each frame of the 

208 SOUND 

film is a snapshot of a separate motionless condition, our eye 
does not perceive it so. What we see is motion. The motion pic- 
ture is what it is because even the shortest shot shows move- 
ment. The smallest particle of action, be it internal or external 
action, is always action, the optical manifestation of which is 
movement — even within one and the same shot. This is how it 
strikes our senses and our consciousness, and this is what 
matters in art. The specific task of the film is to seize on and 
localize by means of close-ups the very instants when the 
decisive, initiating or direction-changing impulses enter the 

However extensive an event is, however vast its scale, there 
has somewhere been some small spark which was the immed- 
iate cause of the explosion; a pebble must have loosened some- 
where and started the landslide. These dramaturgically deci- 
sive particles of time can be presented by the film in a single 
shot. It can show the one man on whom it all turned, at the 
very instant which matters: that last-but-one second of hesi- 
tation in a glance of the eye, the one gesture in which the final 
resolve manifests itself. All this the film can separate by a 
close-up from the more general picture of the scene in which 
the causal course of the whole process is shown from begining 
to end. In such fatal decisive close-ups sound, too, can play a 
cardinal dramaturgical part. 

Moments when a man is alerted by a slight noise, or hears 
a word, may be of fatal significance. The close-up will show 
the face and let us hear the sound too. It will show the drama 
enacted on the face and at the same time let us hear its cause 
and explanation. This is done in two planes, with counter- 
pointed effects. 


Not only the microdramatics expressed in the microphysiog- 
nomy of the face can be made intelligible by the sound which 
causes it. Such a close-up-plus-sound can have the inverse 
effect. The close-up of a listener's face can explain the sound 
he hears. We might perhaps not have noticed the significance 
of some sound or noise if we had not seen its effect in the 


mirror of a human face. For instance we hear the screaming 
of a siren. Such a sound does not acquire a dramatic signifi- 
cance unless we can see from the expression on human faces 
that it is a danger-signal, or a call to revolt. We may hear 
the sound of sobbing, but how deep its meaning is will become 
evident only from the expression of sympathy and under- 
standing appearing on some human face. Further, the acoustic 
character of a sound we understand is different too. We hear 
the sound of a siren differently if we know that it is a warning 
of impending deadly peril. 

The face of a man listening to music may also show two 
kinds of things. The reflected effect of the music may throw 
light into the human soul; it may also throw light on the 
music itself and suggest by means of the listener's facial 
expression some experience touched off by this musical effect. 
If the director shows us a close-up of the conductor while an 
invisible orchestra is playing, not only can the character of the 
music be made clear by the dumbshow of the conductor, his 
facial expression may also give an interpretation of the sounds 
and convey it to us. And the emotion produced in a human 
being by music and demonstrated by a close-up of a face can 
enhance the power of a piece of music in our eyes far more 
than any added decibels. 


In a close-up in which the surroundings are not visible, a 
sound that seeps into the shot sometimes impresses us as 
mysterious, simply because we cannot see its source. It pro- 
duces the tension arising from curiosity and expectation. 
Sometimes the audience does not know what the sound is they 
hear, but the character in the film can hear it, turn his face 
towards the sound and see its source before the audience does. 
This handling of picture and sound provides rich opportunities 
for effects of tension and surprise. 

Asynchronous sound (that is, when there is discrepancy be- 
tween the things heard and the things seen in the film) can 
acquire considerable importance. If the sound or voice is not 
tied up with a picture of its source, it may grow beyond the 


210 SOUND 

dimensions of the latter. Then it is no longer the voice or 
sound of some chance thing, but appears as a pronouncement 
of universal validity. I already mentioned the 'Ora pro nobis' 
in that fine Italian film, which grows into such a storm of 
popular protest and indignation in the close-ups, that a picture 
of even the vastest crowd that could be photographed would 
only diminish the effect. The surest means by which a director 
can convey the pathos or symbolical significance of sound or 
voice is precisely to use it asynchronously. 


Acoustic close-ups make us perceive sounds which are in- 
cluded in the accustomed noise of day-to-day life, but which 
we never hear as individual sounds because they are drowned 
in the general din. Possibly they even have an effect on us but 
this effect never becomes conscious. If a close-up picks out 
such a sound and thereby makes us aware of its effect, then 
at the same time its influence on the action will have been 
made manifest. 

On the stage such things are impossible. If a theatrical 
producer wanted to direct the attention of the audience to a 
scarcely audible sigh, because that sigh expresses a turning- 
point in the action, then all the other actors in the same scene 
would have to be very quiet, or else the actor who is to 
breathe the sigh would have to be brought forward to the foot- 
lights. All this, however, would cause the sigh to lose its 
essential character, which is that it is shy and retiring and 
must remain scarcely audible. As in the silent film so in the 
sound film, scarcely perceptible, intimate things can be con- 
veyed with all the secrecy of the unnoticed eavesdropper. No- 
thing need be silenced in order to demonstrate such sounds for 
all to hear — and they can yet be kept intimate. The general 
din can go on, it may even drown completely a sound like the 
soft piping of a mosquito, but we can get quite close to the 
source of the sound with the microphone and with our ear and 
hear it nevertheless. 

Subtle associations and interrelations of thoughts and emo- 
tions can be conveyed by means of very low, soft sound effects. 


Such emotional or intellectual linkages can play a decisive 
dramaturgical part. They may be anything — the ticking of a 
clock in an empty room, a slow drip from a burst pipe or the 
moaning of a little child in its sleep. 


In such close-ups of sound we must be careful, however, to 
bear in mind the specific nature of sound which never permits 
sound to be isolated from its acoustic environment as a close- 
up shot can be isolated from its surroundings. For what is not 
within the film frame cannot be seen by us, even if it is 
immediately beside the things that are. Light or shadow can be 
thrown into the picture from outside and the outline of a 
shadow can betray to the spectator what is outside the frame 
but still in the same sector of space, although the picture will 
show only a shadow. In sound things are different. An acoustic 
environment inevitably encroaches on the close-up shot and 
what we hear in this case is not a shadow or a beam of light, 
but the sounds themselves, which can always be heard through- 
out the whole space of the picture, however small a section 
of that space is included in the close-up. Sounds cannot be 
blocked out. 

Music played in a restaurant cannot be completely cut out 
if a special close-up of say two people softly talking together 
in a corner is to be shown. The band may not always be seen 
in the picture, but it will always be heard. Nor is there any 
need to silence the music altogether in order that we may hear 
the soft whispering of the two guests as if we were sitting in 
their immediate vicinity. The close-up will contain the whole 
acoustic atmosphere of the restaurant space. Thus we will 
hear not only the people talking, we will also hear in what 
relation their talking is to the sounds all round them. We will 
be able to place it in its acoustic environment. 

Such sound-pictures are often used in the film for the 
purpose of creating an atmosphere. Just as the film can show 
visual landscapes, so it can show acoustic landscapes, a tonal 

212 SOUND 


Our eye recognizes things even if it has seen them only once 
or twice. Sounds are much more difficult to recognize. We 
know far more visual forms than sound forms. We are used 
to finding our way about the world without the conscious 
assistance of our hearing. But without sight we are lost. Our 
ear, however, is not less sensitive, it is only less educated than 
our eye. Science tells us in fact that the ear can distinguish 
more delicate nuances than our eye. The number of sounds 
and noises a human ear can distinguish runs into many thou- 
sands — far more than the shades of colour and degrees of 
light we can distinguish. There is however a considerable 
difference between perceiving a sound and identifying its 
source. We may be aware that we are hearing a different 
sound than before, without knowing to whom or what the 
sound belongs. We may have more difficulty in perceiving 
things visually, but we recognize them more easily once we 
have perceived them. Erdmann's experiments showed that the 
ear can distinguish innumerable shades and degrees in the 
noise of a large crowd, but at the same time it could not be 
stated with certainty whether the noise was that of a merry or 
an angry crowd. 

There is a very considerable difference between our visual 
and acoustic education. One of the reasons for this is that 
we so often see without hearing. We see things from afar, 
through a windowpane, on pictures, on photographs. But we 
very rarely hear the sounds of nature and of life without see- 
ing something. We are not accustomed therefore to draw con- 
clusions about visual things from sounds we hear. This defec- 
tive education of our hearing can be used for many surprising 
effects in the sound film. We hear a hiss in the darkness. A 
snake? A human face on the screen turns in terror towards 
the sound and the spectators tense in their seats. The camera, 
too, turns towards the sound. And behold the hiss is that of a 
kettle boiling on the gas-ring. 

Such surprising disappointments may be tragic too. In such 
cases the slow approach and the slow recognition of the sound 
may cause a far more terrifying tension than the approach of 


something seen and therefore instantly recognized. The roar of 
an approaching flood or landslide, approaching cries of grief 
or terror which we discern and distinguish only gradually, 
impress us with the inevitability of an approaching catastrophe 
with almost irresistible intensity. These great possibilities of 
dramatic effect are due to the fact that such a slow and 
gradual process of recognition can symbolize the desperate 
resistance of the consciousness to understanding a reality 
which is already audible but which the consciousness is reluc- 
tant to accept. 


Auditive culture can be increased like any other and the 
sound film is very suitable to educate our ear. There are how- 
ever definite limits to the possibilities of finding our way about 
the world purely by sound, without any visual impressions. 
The reason for this is that sounds throw no shadows — in other 
words that sounds cannot produce shapes in space. Things 
which we see we must see side by side; if we do not, one of 
them covers up the other so that it cannot be seen. Visual 
impressions do not blend with each other. Sounds are differ- 
ent; if several of them are present at the same time, they merge 
into one common composite sound. We can see the dimension 
of space and see a direction in it. But we cannot hear either 
dimension or direction. A quite unusual, rare sensitivity of ear, 
the so-called absolute — is required to distinguish the several 
sounds which make up a composite noise. But their place in 
space, the direction of their source cannot be discerned even 
by a perfect ear, if no visual impression is present to help. 

It is one of the basic form-problems of the radio play that 
sound alone cannot represent space and hence cannot alone 
represent a stage. 


It is difficult to localize sound and a film director must 
take this fact into account. If three people are talking together 
in a film and they are placed so that we cannot see the 
movements of their mouths and if they do not accompany 

214 SOUND 

their words by gestures, it is almost impossible to know which 
of them is talking, unless the voices are very different. For 
sounds cannot be beamed as precisely as light can be directed 
by a reflector. There are no such straight and concentrated 
sound beams as there are rays of light. 

The shapes of visible things have several sides, right side 
and left side, front and back. Sound has no such aspects, a 
sound strip will not tell us from which side the shot was made. 


Every natural sound reproduced by art on the stage or on 
the platform always takes on a false tone-colouring, for it 
always assumes the colouring of the space in which it is 
presented to the public and not of the space which it is sup- 
posed to reproduce. If we hear a storm, the howling of the 
wind, a clap of thunder, etc. on the stage we always hear in it 
the timbre proper to the stage not in the timbre proper to the 
forest, or ocean or what not the scene is supposed to represent. 
If, say, a choir sings in a church on the stage, we cannot hear 
the unmistakable resonance of Gothic arches; for every sound 
bears the stamp of the space in which it is actually produced. 

Every sound has a space-bound character of its own. The 
same sound sounds different in a small room, in a cellar, in 
a large empty hall, in a street, in a forest or on the sea. 

Every sound which is really produced somewhere must of 
necessity have some such space-quality and this is a very 
important quality indeed if use is to be made of the sensual 
reproducing power of sound! It is this timbre local of sound 
which is necessarily always falsified on the theatrical stage. 
One of the most valuable artistic faculties of the microphone 
is that sounds shot at the point of origin are perpetuated by 
it and retain their original tonal colouring. A sound recorded 
in a cellar remains a cellar sound even if it is played back in 
a picture theatre, just as a film shot preserves the viewpoint 
of the camera, whatever the spectator's viewpoint in the 
cinema auditorium may be. If the picture was taken from 
above, the spectators will see the object from above, even if 
they have to look upwards to the screen and not downwards. 


Just as our eye is identified with the camera lens, so our ear 
is identified with the microphone and we hear the sounds as 
the microphone originally heard them, irrespective of where 
the sound film is being shown and the sound reproduced. In 
this way, in the sound film, the fixed, immutable, permanent 
distance between spectator and actor is eliminated not only 
visually, as already mentioned earlier in this book, but acous- 
tically as well. Not only as spectators, but as listeners, too, we 
are transferred from our seats to the space in which the events 
depicted on the screen are taking place. 


Our sound apparatus records sound accurately and repro- 
duces it with tolerable fidelity. But neither our microphones 
nor our loudspeakers can subjectively mould the sounds as 
the ordinary camera can influence the visual shape of things. 
If two cameramen of different artistic individuality photograph 
the same stormy sea, the visual pictures that result may be 
completely different. But the acoustic reproduction of the same 
stormy sea will be substantially the same, the only differences 
that may appear being due to technical causes. The sound 
engineer has no possibility of presenting the same sound in 
different ways, according to his own artistic personality. If 
two cameramen shoot the same scene, their pictures may re- 
semble one another very little, although the objects in them 
may be equally recognizable in both. But sound tracks re- 
corded by two sound engineers in the same technical condi- 
tions cannot show such individual differences. 

Why? Is it due only to the technical imperfections of 
our present-day recording apparatus or are there other deeper 
reasons inherent in the very nature of sound or the nature of 
our hearing? 

When a cameraman shoots the acting of an actor, as a visual 
phenomenon, there emerges a synthesis of two artistic per- 
formances: to the characterization by the actor is added the 
presentation by the cameraman who picks the most charac- 
teristic outlines and lightings out of a thousand different poss- 

216 SOUND 

ible ones. The expression of the shot, its atmosphere, enhances 
the expression on the actor's face, adds body and intensity to 
it. For this reason the cinematic shot does not merely repro- 
duce, it also creates. 

But in a sound record there is no more and no less expres- 
sion than is put into it by the voice of the actor and faithfully 
reproduced by the sound camera. The sound engineer does 
nothing more than record and reproduce; he cannot project 
the subjectivity of his own personality into the sound picture 
by means of viewpoint or set-up. But only the possibility of 
such subjective influences would afford the sound engineer 
scope for artistic self-expression. The shape and outline of 
sounds cannot be changed by varying perspectives as the 
physiognomy of visible things can be changed by varying 
angles. Sounds have no 'angles'. The same sound coming from 
the same point cannot be recorded in different ways. But if 
the sound engineer has no free choice between many possi- 
bilities, his recording will remain a mechanical reproduction 
and nothing else. 


What we hear from the screen is not an image of the sound 
but the sound itself, which the sound camera has recorded and 
reproduced again. It is the same sound that has been passed on 
to the screen. Sounds have no images. The sound itself is 
repeated in its original dimension with all its original physical 
qualities when it is echoed from the screen. There is no differ- 
ence in dimension and reality between the original sound and 
the recorded and reproduced sound, as there is between 
real objects and their photographic images. 


The formal problems of sound montage, the acoustic and 
musical rules which govern the effect of sounds are purely 
musical and acoustic questions and it is not proposed to dis- 


cuss them here. What concerns us is only the part sound mon- 
tage may play in film dramaturgy. 

For instance, the similarity of certain sounds may invite 
comparisons and evoke associations of ideas. In the film 
about Strauss, The Great Waltz, the rhythmic tap-tap of a 
trotting cab-horse evokes the rhythm of the waltz, to which 
the matutinal sounds of the Wienerwald provide the melody. 
In one of Ermler's films the rattle of a sewing-machine evokes 
in the mind of a soldier who has lost his memory the rattle 
of a machine-gun and thereby conjures up the whole forgotten 

The linking of juxtaposed sub-contrasts may be more effec- 
tive than the cutting together of visual contrasts. A thousand 
expressive effects can be produced merely by cross-cutting the 
sounds of sobs and laughter, groans and dance music, etc. 

Silence, as a sequel to sound, may also appear as an acoustic 
effect in sound montage. The reason for this is that sound 
does not disappear from our consciousness as quickly as a 
vanished visual picture. It echoes in our ear for some time, 
thus mutely counterpointing the subsequent pictures. After a 
sequence of hot dance music the stillness of a sick-room affects 
us differently than if the preceding picture, too, had been a 
quiet one. Sounds which, as the saying goes, 'still resound in 
our ears', may deepen and interpret the silence that follows 


The similarity of sounds renders possible the making of 
sound dissolves similar to picture dissolves. This is not merely 
a formal linkage — it may provide an essential, interpreting 
connection between two scenes. If the shouts 'Down tools!' 
'All out!' dissolve into the rousing roar of the factory siren, 
the effect will be metaphoric; the siren will seem to us the 
angry voice of the factory. Such dissolves can become similes : 
if the tapping of a Morse key at the headquarters of an army 
in the field first grows louder, and then dissolves into the 
rattle of firearms, a causal, meaningful connection arises be- 
tween the two sounds. The tapping of the Morse-key seems 

218 SOUND 

in retrospect to have been the command, which is carried out 
by the sound of firing. Such sound similes and acoustic sym- 
bols are often somewhat too obvious and can easily degenerate 
into empty formalism. 


A good traditional effect is achieved when the sounds of 
one scene are still heard during the next one. Instances: the 
jazz music of the night-club we have just seen can still be 
heard in the room where a dead man is lying; the roar of the 
open sea impinges on the sultry silence of a stuffy basement 
den in a great city. Or the other way round : we see a plough- 
man working in the fields but we can already hear in this 
picture the whirr and rattle of the factory machinery we are 
to see in the next, coming in from the neighbouring shot as it 
were; not a real neighbourhood, but a filmic neighbourhood, 
determined by the artistic composition of the film. Such antici- 
patory preparation increases tension and creates atmosphere. 


The asynchronous use of sound is the most effective device 
of the sound film. If recorded synchronously, sound is properly 
speaking merely a naturalistic complement to the picture. It 
simply makes the picture more like reality. But in asyn- 
chronous recording the sound grows independent of the image 
and can give a parallel meaning, a sort of running commentary 
to the scenes. 

In one of the Soviet war films there was a young soldier 
whose nerves give way when he first comes under fire. He 
deserts his comrades and hides in a shell-hole. A close-up 
shows his face and by his closed mouth we can see that he is 
silent. Nevertheless we hear him talking. The monologue we 
hear is in his mind and we listen tensely to what he is silently 
saying to himself. If he had really spoken aloud and said the 
same words in a voiced monologue, this scene would have 
been unbearable. For nowadays even on the stage we find an 
'unnatural' monologue difficult to accept. But isn't it even 


more unnatural that a human being should move across the 
ground with the speed of a car? As long as what we see 
remains close to reality, reality appears exaggerated. But if 
what we see is quite divorced from reality, it becomes fairy- 
tale or symbol. If a man has wings to fly with, he can compete 
even with an aeroplane; we no longer apply 'natural' standards. 
Asynchronous sound has no need to be natural. Its effect is 
symbolic and it is linked with the things it accompanies 
through its significance, in the sphere of the mind, not of reality. 
This richest and deepest possibility of artistic expression has 
as yet been used very little in the sound film. And yet its 
future development lies in this direction. It is this free, counter- 
pointed use of picture and sound that could deliver the sound 
film from the fetters of primitive naturalism and enable our 
filmic art to attain once again the subtlety already achieved by 
the silent film in the past and then lost again through the 
advent of sound. 

In an asynchronous sound film the action can move on two 
parallel levels at the same time, in the sphere of sound and 
in the sphere of visual image. For instance : we can see what 
is ostensibly happening; at the same time we can hear what 
the persons involved in the action are thinking and feeling 
within themselves. Or the other way round: a narrator tells 
us what is happening; we need not even see it. What we do see 
is a sequence of thoughts, an irrational chain of associations. 
New art forms, the forms of the film-ballad and of lyrical 
film-poetry may possibly develop along these lines. We would 
hear the poem, accompanied by a cascade of pictures, a 
parallel, as it were, to a musical accompaniment but trans- 
lated into the visual sphere; illustrations which have motion 
and which conjure up the mind-pictures of a soul moved by 



If we see a close-up of a listening human face isolated in a 
shot and hear some other person talking to it, then the shot 
will be asynchronous, even though the scene may be naturalis- 

220 SOUND 

tically synchronous. The sounds exist in the same rooms, but 
not in the same shot. Such a split may also have its contra- 
puntal effects. The spectator's attention is riveted on a silent 
face and he sees quite different things with his eye than those 
about which he hears from a space outside the film frame. 
This again can give counterpointed effects impossible on the 
stage and equally impossible in the silent film. 

In his first sound film (in which he did not speak), Charlie 
Chaplin showed us a fine example of such an asynchronous 
effect. His beloved is singing in a hall and does not please the 
audience. The crowd in the vast hall is wrapped in icy silence. 
Only the clapping of one isolated pair of hands is heard. The 
camera pans, searching the crowd for the lone applauder. It 
searches for a long time among cruelly indifferent faces. But 
the applause grows louder. The camera is drawing closer. 
Finally it lights on Charlie, clapping away alone in a corner 
of the hall, fighting single-handed against the indifference of 
the crowd and against fate. 

In Party Crowd, a film made by Pyriev, the Soviet director, 
there is another fine instance of such an effect. The heroine 
is expelled from the party by a show of hands at a committee 
meeting. We see her alone in close-up. We cannot see the hands 
raised in the vote and so we cannot at the first glance ascertain 
whether the majority is for her or against her. But we can 
hear the tellers count : 'One, two, three . . .' The heroine bows 
her head more and more. Tour, five, six . . .' the figures crash 
down on the bowed head like hammer-blows. But we cannot 
see the final result, which we would of course have seen at a 
glance if the shot had been a longer one instead of a close-up. 
Only hearing the count permits us still to go on hoping, and 
because we can't see the teller, his voice is magnified to the 
dimensions of an impersonal, inexorable destiny. 



When the talkie made its appearance, there was a 
panic among the producers, directors, actors and script writers. 
This was another thing that had never happened before in the 
history of any other art; that the technical development of the 
medium of expression should have so embarrassed the artists 
who practised the art. 

The anxiety and uncertainty had many reasons. The talking 
film seemed to threaten the international validity of the silent 
film and by rendering export much more difficult, endanger 
the financial and business interests which had invested in it. 
Many directors and actors lacked the required ability to deal 
with speech. It is characteristic that no one objected to the 
appearance of sound in the film. Charlie Chaplin was prepared 
on the spot to use the craziest sound effects. In his first sound 
film he accidentally swallows a whistle which begins to whistle 
at the most inopportune moments. It was only speech against 
which the almost universal objections were raised. Artists and 
theoreticians mobilized the traditional laws of art, philoso- 
phy and aesthetics against the talking film, just as they had 
done against the silent film — and with the same lack of 

How silly the resistance to the talking film was can be 
gauged if we imagine what would have happened if the 
Lumieres had constructed a sound camera at the same time as 
the silent camera — a supposition which is not impossible in 
principle. Had they done so, no one would have conceived the 
crazy idea of presenting dramatic scenes in dumb-show. Every- 
one would have condemned such an idea as inartistic, un- 
natural and ridiculous. To show people talking without sound, 
mouthing the words without saying them ! And then they dis- 
appear and we read what they were supposed to say, in the 



form of a caption! Then we see the same man again talking 
soundlessly! Absurd! 

Well, let us admit this was a very naive and primitive 
method, by which we attempted to remedy the imperfections 
of our technique. Nevertheless, we gave it the status of an 
aesthetic principle. This was a necessary and extremely fruit- 
ful thesis. After all, the silence of the pictures could not be 
changed — we got it as the material with which we had to work 
whether we liked it or not, and every artistic possibility of 
it had to be exploited to the full. 

In the beginning everyone saw only a disturbing element in 
speech and the best directors exerted their imagination and 
skill to the utmost to avoid having to make their characters 
speak. At all cost they wanted to get round using the new 
technique. If anything could condemn the present state of the 
sound film, it is certainly the fact that this situation has 
changed little to this day and dialogue is still regarded as a 
necessary evil. In other words the sound film is an art which 
regards its essential means of expression as a nuisance. It is 
much as if a painter began to paint with the intention of doing 
without colours as much as possible. 

Stroheim got round the problem in his first sound film by 
using a ventriloquist character. Even Rene Clair in his Sous 
les Toits de Paris made his characters talk behind a window 
or in such noise that one could only see the movement of their 
mouths but not understand what they were saying. 

This resistance to dialogue, this refusal to accept the his- 
torical fact of the talkie, this infertile, conservative attitude 
was nevertheless more artistic and productive than the deca- 
dence of the last decade of the sound film, when it resigned 
itself to the American conception of the pure talkie and there- 
by sank back to the stage of photographed theatre which had 
once already been left behind by the silent film. Those who still 
sought to rescue what they could out of this debacle were try- 
ing to save the pictorial culture evolved through the silent film, 
a culture which the spoken word nullified. But the newer 
American film industry and film business harbours no such 
artistic anxieties. They have by now quite forgotten the great 
art which had its cradle in Hollywood and is now dead. They 


blithely make their characters talk in close-ups from start to 
finish. It is cheaper and quicker that way. It is photographed 
theatre again as it was at the very beginning. 

But now we have come to the threshold of the second period 
of film art, when Europe will rediscover the film, the sound 
film, the talkie, the colour film and stereoscopic film, which 
nevertheless will not be a copy of the theatre but an autono- 
mous new art using every one of its media of expression in a 
way differing from the methods of the theatrical stage. This 
art will not regard the dialogue as a nuisance but use it accord- 
ing to its own new and autonomous methods. 

In my Der sichtbare Mensch I outlined the aesthetics of 
silence in film art. This was no error on my part, for the sound 
film was no organic continuation of the silent film, but a 
different form of art. In the silent film of the silent days, silence 
was in fact an essential element. 

It is nevertheless true that the silent film would never have 
emerged in the form in which it did emerge, had the sound 
camera been developed at the same time as the ordinary cine- 
matographic camera. Every phenomenon of history has its 
reason, but not every phenomenon is necessary for all that. 
The essential difference between visual culture and the intellec- 
tual culture of words, of which I wrote in Der sichtbare 
Mensch, does in fact exist, but that does not mean that it must 
continue to exist for ever as a gulf that cannot be bridged. 

It is true also that the talkie has thrown a developed pic- 
torial, visual culture back to a primitive stage. But it would 
be dogmatic and pedantic to magnify a technical crisis into an 
impassable essential gulf between pictorial and verbal pre- 

In the silent film, too, there was in fact a contradiction be- 
tween the picture and the written word, because the picture, 
the visual scene had to be interrupted in order to let the public 
read the captions. Picture and writing, two basically different 
dimensions of the mind had thus constantly to alternate with 
each other. The rhythm of the cutting was constantly held up. 
Looking at it to-day this appears an intolerable crudity. 

In the sound film the sequence of the pictures is never inter- 
rupted in this way. The visual montage is never stopped by a 


caption written only to be read. The speech is incorporated 
in the picture itself, not in expressionless written words the 
emphasis on which the reader has to supply as he reads them. 
And not only is the spoken word heard together with the see- 
ing of the picture — the expression of sound and image merge 
into an organic unity when they depict the emotions or state 
of mind of the characters. 

Thus the objection to words was legitimate in the silent film 
because the written caption was always an alien element in the 
sequence of pictures. The absolute ideal of the silent film 
would have been a completely captionless film and it has 
often been attempted to produce such films. These attempts 
were in fact protests not against speech, but against the neces- 
sity of reading — which is also an optical process, but not a 
process of the same nature as the other optical process of 
watching pictures. Seeing people talking in some dramatic 
scene was never considered undesirable. Nor would the hear- 
ing of speech have been disturbing if the picture had not been 
interfered with. We would have all been delighted if we had 
not been forced to break the picture sequences with written 
explanations. But the silent film could reach perfection only 
as a silent film. 


In spite of all such logical considerations, it was precisely 
men of better taste who protested loudest at first against 
the speaking film, although it seemed at the beginning as if the 
sound film could preserve such artistic achievements of the 
silent film as the close-up which revealed the microphysiog- 
nomy of the actors and the face of things; the living soul of 
landscapes; the rhythm of cutting; the change of viewpoint 
and set-up. What was it then that was so offensive to so many 
at first? 

It was a bitter disappointment, a painful revelation in fact, 
when the public heard and understood for the first time what 
the film stars were saying on the screen, after having for so 
long only seen them talking. Not the fact that they were talk- 
ing but what they said was a shock. The things they were 


saying were so trite, so inane, that the public of a higher 
level of taste longed to have the silent film back again. Thus 
it happened that the objection to the platitudes and silliness 
of the dialogue turned into a prejudice against dialogue as 

The authors of the silent films were very seldom great writers 
and the quality of their dialogue was in accordance with their 
own qualities as writers. The mimic dialogues of great actors 
were often more expressive, more profound and more moving 
than the dialogues of even the best film writers of the day. In 
the silent film we understood the speech of the eyes even with- 
out words. A glance from Asta Nielsen or Lilian Gish or 
Charlie Chaplin spoke volumes — more than the words of many 
a good writer. The mute dialogues of such actors often moved 
us even if the story of the film was as silly as could be. 

But when these great mute speakers actually began to 
speak, something terrible happened. The incredible triviality 
of their audible words overlaid the human depths of their 
glances and gestures. For now it was no longer these great 
artists who were speaking to us in the language of hand and 
eye, but the scriptwriters ! A great illusion was destroyed. 

Strangely enough to this day the public and the critics treat 
the dialogue in sound films with far greater indulgence than 
dialogue on the stage. But in those old days no one so much 
as conceived the idea that the film might have anything to do 
with serious literature and that the dialogue of the sound film 
might have possibilities, tasks and problems that are deeper 
than those of the stage dialogue, and, what is more, are com- 
pletely new, completely of our own time. 


Even to-day the watchword is still 'speak as little as possible'. 
And yet it is wrong to represent the characters in a film at all 
cost as always less talkative than the actors in the theatre. 
After all, the characters in the silent film also spoke but we 
did not hear what they were saying. The titles of course told 
us no more of the mute dialogue than was absolutely indis- 
pensable for the understanding of what was going on. 



But in the sound film, if no talking is to be heard, no talking 
may be seen either. For it is of course impossible that the 
public should hear every noise save only human speech; it is 
equally impossible to render audible only two 'important' sen- 
tences and let the public merely see the rest as soundless 
mouthing, the way it was in the days of the silent film. Hence 
if in a sound film no speaking is to be heard, then the charac- 
ters must in fact not talk. 

But the silence of human beings is not merely a passive 
negative. The act of keeping silent is often an intentional, 
dramatically expressive act, and always an indication of some 
quite definite state of mind. 

In the silent film every shot is silent but it very rarely depicts 
silence. Silence is either a characteristic trait of a character or 
must have some dramaturgical motivation. In the film no more 
than on the stage can characters fall silent simply 'in order 
that there may be less talking'; if it is done without inner 
motivation, a meaningless void is created. 

Talking much or little is not merely a matter of quantity. 
Here quantity very soon turns into quality and the formal 
acoustic effect grows beyond itself into a dramaturgical factor. 
Speaking much or little is a difference in characterization. 

In Ostrovski's famous play Storm, the heroine, Catherine, is 
a chatterbox, who never stops babbling. This restless, un- 
ceasing talking outlines her undecided, unstable, volatile 
character, recalling the fluttering of a bird. Only such a chat- 
tering, silly child could be the victim of such a tragedy as the 
one which overtakes Catherine. But when a producer, Petrov, 
in his aversion to much talking presented Catherine as a taci- 
turn woman, he changed her character; she was now a sober, 
quiet and resolute woman who could not have possibly experi- 
enced the fate which was natural and necessary in the case 
of Ostrovski's original Catherine. 

The speech of human beings is not a progress report given 
to some audience — it is an instinctive expression of their emo- 
tions and is just as independent of rational intentions as is 
laughing or weeping. Live men and women don't say only 
things that have reason or purpose and it is not their rational 
utterings that are most characteristic of them. We must not 


forget, even in the sound film, that speech, apart from every- 
thing else, is a visible play of features as well. 


In the American films of recent years people talk a great 
deal, far too much in fact. This is one of the symptoms of the 
decadent relapse of the American film towards the photo- 
graphed theatre. Often this happens merely for technical 
reasons, in order to reduce the cost of production. And yet 
precisely in these dialogue scenes there is something specific- 
ally filmic. 

In discussing the silent film we have already analysed speech 
as expressive movement, which can show the most delicate 
shades of emotion even if we cannot understand what is being 
said. Now in the present-day sound film we understand the 
words and therefore very often understand that their meaning 
is unimportant. But all the more important is the tone in which 
they are said : the cadence, the emphasis, the timbre, the husky 
resonance, which are not intentional, not conscious. Vibrations 
of the voice may mean many things that are not included in 
the meaning of the word itself — it is a sort of accompaniment 
to the words, a verbal gesture. 

Loquacity is often merely a vehicle for such extra-rational 
expression and the easy, fluid speaking manner of the modern 
film is very suitable for such vocal manifestations. In this 
manner the words glide out from between the lips with a 
fleeting, feeble smile, or a scarcely noticeable shadow of grief 
in the eyes. The micromimicry of the close-up turns such 
speech into an audible play of features. 

Modern actors in modern stage plays also speak without 
rhetorical emphasis. But the stylized framework of the stage 
settings, the position of the footlights and the distance from 
the audience nevertheless does not permit such weightless 
speech. Then there is the sound connected with mere breath- 
ing, which we ourselves do not even perceive as intentional 
action, but merely as the acoustic aura of a human being, 
something like the scent of skin or hair. Herein lies a specific 
opportunity for the sound film. The ever-completely open 


whole space of the theatrical stage damps down the emphasis 
of the spoken word; the film close-up renders such emphasis 
as unnecessary as it does the violent grimacing, the lurid make- 
up or the sweeping gesture. 


One of the most acute problems of film production to-day is 
the question of exports to areas speaking a foreign language. 
This problem affects especially small nations very seriously. 
The inner market is insufficient to pay for production costs 
and the great nations who can satisfy the demand of their 
own inner market by their own production, very seldom buy 
films, the foreign dialogue of which has to be conveyed to the 
public by means of titles. It is well known that half the effect 
is lost in this way. 

Why then is dialogue not dubbed in various languages? This 
was done a good deal in the first years of the sound film and 
this technique has also made great progress since that time. 
There must be a serious reason for the film industry's aban- 
donment of this practice and with it much of the possibility 
of earnings in foreign countries. 

The reason is that by now it has become impossible to dub 
in the dialogue of a sound film. This is a result of the develop- 
men of film culture to a higher stage. The sound film has 
educated the public to see and hear the profound connection 
between speech and facial expression. The public to-day 
understands not only the meaning of the spoken word but 
also the sound-gesture that goes with it (which was discussed 
in the preceding chapter) and can hear in it the parallel to 
gesture and facial expression. A thus sophisticated public 
immediately feels the contradiction between, say, French facial 
expression and an English voice subsequently dubbed on to it. 
In the old days when we as yet paid attention only to the con- 
ceptual meaning of the dialogue, it was conceivable that some- 
one in a film should say in English with an English calm, 
cool intonation T love you' and accompany the words with 
passionate Italian gestures. It strikes the present-day public 
as irresistibly funny if it notices — and it does notice — a dis- 


crepancy of temperament between word and gesture. This is 
a consoling thought because it proves that the sound-film cul- 
ture of the public has developed greatly since the dubbing 
days, even though this development made dubbing impossible. 


We know that the Shakespearian stage had no scenery. No 
visual impression distracted the attention of the audience from 
the words of the play. Shakespeare's colourful language filled 
the stage with a rich baroque imagery. But aesthetics have a 
law which is related per analogiam to the law of impermea- 
bility known to physics. According to this the sound film is 
so full of visual images that there is little room in it for words. 
This is the exact opposite of the position on the Shakespearian 
stage. The sound film consists of a series of pictures and the 
words sound within the picture — they are just as much an 
element of the picture as any line or shadow. They will always 
only complete or stress the impression made by the picture. 
For this reason the words must not become too prominent in 
it. The sound film demands a style of weightless words. 


It is an artistic postulate that each shot should be a pro- 
perly composed picture. The words must not be allowed to 
burst the bounds of this composition. Words can assist the 
film's visual pictoriality by permitting the leaving-out of many 
transition shots which would be needed only to make what is 
happening easier to understand, which can be adequately nar- 
rated in words, and which it would not be worth while to 
show pictorially. The talkie can even give optical emphasis to 
words, can underscore them visually, for instance by making 
the character say the crucial sentence in a close-up and thereby 
lifting it out above the rest. Another device is to have it said 
in a suddenly enlarged shot taken by the camera moving 
quickly closer to the speaker. Camera technique thus makes 
it possible to emphasize a word or a phrase without the speaker 
actually having to do so. On the stage, only the actor can put 


stress on a word. If he wants to give it prominence he must 
speak it in a different tone from the other words, even though 
this is not otherwise indicated or desirable. In the talkie the 
actor can speak with an unchanged, uniform lack of emphasis 
and not he but the suddenly changed set-up (which is a matter 
for the director) will cause the public to note the importance 
of a certain word. The character into whose mouth such words 
are put may not even know that these particular words are 
key words. Their significance is established not by the actor 
but by the set-up. Hence the dialogue of a sound film need 
not be as well-constructed, logical and so completely reveal- 
ing as the dialogue in a stage play. For the picture — and not 
only the things depicted in it, but its whole atmosphere — may 
express much of what the words do not say. 

On the other hand the words must fit into the composition 
of the picture in such a way as to enhance acoustically and 
not counteract the visual effect of the former. For instance the 
words must not attract our attention just when the visual pic- 
ture is expressing something important. 

The strength of sound and the tone of the lighting also 
have to be in harmony with each other. Further, if the spoken 
words have a sound background (background music or noise), 
then, if something is visible of pictorial background, the word 
should not stand out more from the acoustic background than 
the speaking figure stands out against the visual background. 


It has already been said that the spoken word is not merely 
the reflection of a concept — its intonation, its timbre, at the 
same time make it an irrational expression of emotion. It has 
further been said that the sound film with its close-up is more 
suitable than the theatrical stage for capturing these underlying 
acoustic colourings which express not only the logical 
thoughts of the speakers but the unconscious moods which at 
the same time are reflected by their facial expression. 
It is the business of poets to capture in writing the moods 
which hover, as it were, between the words. But it is one of 
the paradoxes of irrational expression that one can 'read be- 


tween the lines' only where rationally readable lines are avail- 
able. The unspoken word can find a voice only as a sort of 
consonant of the spoken word. Between two clearly intelli- 
gible words we can seize, as between the points of delicate 
forceps, that something for which there is no word. But words 
which have no rational content can never conjure up the aura 
of irrational moods. They can be only inarticulate sounds of 
passion, such as screams, sobs, laughter, which cannot express 
subtly differentiated shades of feeling. The irrationality of such 
sounds gives no deeper meaning to words but deprives them on 
the contrary of all meaning. 



The conceptual, rational quality of the word 
makes the sound-film comedy a rather special problem. The 
distortion of visual forms appears as a distortion only if we 
remember the original form of which it is a distortion and 
recognize it in the caricature. Unless this is so, we would be 
seeing just another form with no relation to any other living 
thing. The caricature is the more effective, the more it 
resembles its original. But a sound, as we have already said, 
is not capable of varied angles. Any change in a sound simply 
produces another sound which has no connection with the 
previous one. 

Of course the analogy to a shape is not a single sound but a 
sound picture or melody, and caricatures of melodies are with- 
in the range of possibility. But how can one distort the voice 
of a living being or the noises of nature in such a manner as 
to keep them still recognizable? 

Are improbable sounds, fantastic or grotesque noises pos- 
sible at all? We can imagine fairies or witches or ogres or 
dragons and other fairy-like characters and draw them too — 
but fairy-tale sounds, fairy-tale voices and noises . . . what are 
they like? We can invent all sorts of non-existent and impos- 
sible things but we cannot invent impossible sounds, that is 
sounds which could not be heard in reality, for we must pro- 
duce them if we invent them. A picture being an image, an 
illusion, may be the image of something non-existent and 
merely imagined. The sound in a film is on the contrary not 
an image of a real sound, but a repetition, a re-voicing of the 
real sound itself. In other words it is impossible to invent an 
impossible sound. 




A sound itself cannot in itself be improbable. But the 
source of a sound may be improbable or inadequate. The roar- 
ing of a lion is not in itself grotesque, but it becomes so if it 
comes out of the mouth of a mouse. A sound in itself does 
not appear distorted if we do not see it together with a pic- 
ture to which it is unsuitable. On the other hand the sight of 
an unsuitable source of sound may be very funny and this 
device has been used a great deal by the American cartoons. 
When Mickey Mouse spits, the gob makes a noise on the floor 
like a bass drum. 

It is no less improbable and hence fairy-tale-like when 
things which normally have no voice at all suddenly begin to 
speak. Or if for instance a spider begins to play the harp on 
the threads of its web and the threads do really emit the 
sounds of a harp. The threads of the web can have some resem- 
blance to the strings of a musical instrument and this visual 
resemblance is the basis for the sound-association. If we see a 
skeleton dancing and someone tapping its ribs with a thigh- 
bone, as a xylophone player does the xylophone keys, and if 
the sound heard is like that of a xylophone, this strikes the 
listener as convincing. 

It is a well-known phenomenon that certain visual impres- 
sions arouse acoustic associations. Poets very often mention 
such things. Who has not heard of the silver tinkle of moon- 
beams or the jingle of the harebell. The cartoon film had 
only to take the most trivial metaphors literally in order to 
obtain funny but perfectly convincing sound-pictures. 


Possibilities in this field are much more limited owing to the 
conceptual and rational nature of words. We may exaggerate 
or distort a mannerism of speech for instance and produce a 
funny effect. Intonation and cadence can be thus exaggerated 
even without intelligible words. But the limits to which words 
can be distorted are fixed by the limits of intelligibility. Words 
and sentences which are quite unintelligible cannot be funny. 


If we see something incomprehensible, perhaps in darkness 
or in a dream, such a thing may still be uncanny and fright- 
ening. But if words are incomprehensible, they are robbed of 
every possibility of being terrifying. They turn into empty, 
conglomerates of sound which convey nothing and rouse no 
associations of any kind in us. 

Convincing historical proof of the great difficulty of talkie 
comedies is the fact that with the emergence of the talkie the 
already very well developed American slapstick comedy al- 
most completely disappeared. None of the world famous great 
masters of this genre could retain their popularity in the world 
of sound. Neither Buster Keaton nor Harold Lloyd survived 
because they were unable to distort their voices and speech to 
harmonize with the funniness of their visual appearance. Char-, 
lie Chaplin is an exception and he will be discussed later in 
this connection. 


The basic principle of the musical grotesque is also that a 
sound is made grotesque by the fact that its quality is at odds 
with the nature of the instrument producing it. In Alexandrov's 
film Jazz Comedy, a musical farce, the shepherd taps the 
peasant jugs and plays on them as on a musical instrument. 
But the melody he thus produces is not at all grotesque. What 
is grotesque is the surprising fact that he is able to produce 
such a not-at-all-distorted, even pleasant melody, by tapping 
earthenware jugs. If we were not shown the funny source of 
this music, we would see nothing funny in it at all. Thus a 
beautiful melody may strike us as funny if it emanates from 
objects which do not seem suitable to produce it. The musical 
clowns of the circus ring have used this effect from time 
immemorial. When a clown takes a broomstick, a pig's bladder 
and a piece of string and turns them into a string instrument 
from which he evokes the mellow sounds of a violoncello, then 
what is funny is not the sound of the cello but the fact that it 
is produced by a broomstick and a pig's bladder. 

Another basic principle of sound distortion is that the fact 
and intention of distortion should be manifest. This is possible 


only if the original sound, the sound which is to be shown 
distorted, is either universally known to the public or can be 
heard by it at the same time as the distorted sound. A fre- 
quent musical joke for instance is when musical instruments 
imitate human or animal sounds — it is much in use in jazz. 
The saxophone laughs, the clarinet crows like a cock, and 
that is amusing as it would not be if a member of the band 
actually laughed or a real cock were made to crow. 


To-day even the most serious composers write music for the 
film and regard it as a distinct form of art, like the opera. This 
has been rendered possible by the sound film. The silent film 
did not provide much inspiration for the composers, although 
it was throughout accompanied by music. The main reason for 
this was that few cinemas had a good orchestra of their own 
and that the films were shown, and hence the music played, 
for only a very short time. The sound film, unlike the silent, 
preserves permanently the good performance of a piece of 
music just as a gramophone record does. 

In the last years of the silent film serious music was never- 
theless composed frequently for certain especially important 
productions. Because such music accompanied silent pictures, 
it was natural that it should be used to indicate the absent 
sounds and hence was more or less programme music. The 
roaring of the sea, the thunder of machinery and other such 
naturalistic sounds were exactly recorded in the score as musi- 
cal components of the composition, which were evoked at the 
waving of the conductor's baton, as if they were issuing from 
some novel noise-producing instruments. 

The sound film made such naturalistic imitation of sounds 
by music unnecessary. In the sound film the sea itself can roar 
as it pleases and no longer needs the assistance of the orches- 
tra, the machines can thunder, cocks can crow, and the music 
need not imitate anything — it can remain pure music. Of 
course the composer must take into account the volume of 
sound which the recording apparatus records as the natural 
noises of life and must compose his music to fit it, in order 


that the final acoustic impression may be all of one piece. 

Thus the sound film in its most recent development no 
longer seeks to illustrate the passions seen in the pictures, but 
to give them a parallel, different, musical expression. The 
visible reflection in the picture and the audible manifestation 
in the music of the same human experience thus run parallel 
without being dependent on each other. It is natural for music 
to accompany the main turning-points of the action of the 
film, but it need not translate its every motive into rhythm — 
such servile following of the action would lend the film a 
ballet-like or pantomime-like quality. 

The composer working for the sound film must also be able 
to remain silent when required. For silence is an important 
medium of expression in the sound film. It can be like the 
holding of one's breath in a moment of intense tension. It can 
help to establish an atmosphere. But frequently it is precisely 
the music which expresses the great experience of silence, of 
quiet. The great spiritual experience of silence cannot be 
adequately expressed by the mere negative of an absence of 
sound; it is expressed in the face of one who is silent, in a 
gesture or in a music which is the voice of silence. Perhaps 
the most perfect example of this is the scene in Wagner's 
Flying Dutchman, when the Dutchman first meets Senta. They 
stand facing each other for a long time in silence. They them- 
selves are silent, but the music is not. Such a long, frozen 
silence would be unbearably empty on the stage if the silence 
were complete, if the music did not express the passions ravag- 
ing the hearts of the mute characters. 


Charlie Chaplin was against the talkie from the start. He 
had no objection to sounds and noises and used them from the 
beginning. He did not even mind if the other characters in his 
films talked, as long as he himself could remain silent. This 
conservative attitude began to make even the visual picture- 
technique of his films dangerously out of date, for in dramatic 
scenes he could not bring the characters into close-up, for in 
close-up the public would have to hear what they were saying; 


now, in the days of the sound film, it would have appeared 
that the sound apparatus had broken down. Nowadays the 
silence of a film would never be regarded as artistic intention, 
but only as a technical lapse. It was for this reason that Chap- 
lin's Modern Times was more primitive, more out of date in 
its camera-work than his last silent films had been. 

What we have lost in no longer being able to see close-ups 
of Charlie's face can be measured only by those who remember 
the heart-rending close-ups of his older films, those sad and 
wise child-like eyes, that roguishly charming smile and the 
tragic expression of frustrated goodwill in eyes overflowing 
with kindness. 

If Chaplin's last films were nevertheless great artistic 
achievements, they were so not because of their silence but in 
spite of it. There was nothing in these films which would have 
justified their silence as an artistic necessity. So Charlie's 
silence remained a mystery right up to the time he made 
Modern Times, when at last he found his tongue — but only to 
sing. And in that singing scene it was at once clear why 
Charlie did not want to speak before. 

Not that his voice is unpleasant. On the contrary, he has 
a perfectly charming voice. But how was Charlie to speak? 
How does such a funny little man speak, who wears such a 
funny bowler hat perched on the top of his head, whose pants 
are so wide and wrinkled, who walks with such a funny little 
cane, on such funny boat-like feet, with such a funny waddling 
gait? Such a funny figure must have a correspondingly funny 
voice and manner of speech. But what would such a voice and 
manner be like? How does a caricature talk? How does a mask 
talk? What is its voice like? What manner of speech would be 
as funny and touching, as clumsy and agile, as good-natured 
and cunning, as Charlie's visual image? Can this improbable, 
yet convincing, this true and yet unnatural being talk naturally, 
without affectation? 

Charlie, the funny little man, would have had to invent 
some specific manner of speech which would have been as 
different from the speech of other men as his appearance was 
different from the appearance of other men. We know that the 
actors of the ancient Greek theatre did not talk naturally but 


used a kind of megaphone to recite their verses. Their lan- 
guage and voice were not natural. The masques of the ancient 
Japanese theatre also had their unnatural style of speech. The 
Charlie-image would also have had to have an artificial voice 
and language, an acoustic mask to match his visual make-up. 

Charlie had to be silent, for he was locked into his own 
grotesque mask, a mask which he had invented for himself 
and the success and popularity of which imprisoned him like 
an iron mask and would not let him go. 

Then why did Chaplin nevertheless break silence in his 
Modern Times? Because there he sang and a text that is sung 
is not natural and tolerates a funny distortion no less than does 
a visual image. In that singing scene Chaplin loses his cuff on 
which he noted the words of the song he was to sing. Why? 
In order that he need not pronounce sensible, natural words. 
He begins to gabble, he sings meaningless, non-existent words 
and the result is a grotesque caricature in the sphere of sound 
which harmonizes well with his visual appearance and manner, 
because it is as unnatural as these. 

This was, however, merely a resourceful evasion of the 
problem and not a solution. But it is already obvious that 
Chaplin is working hard to escape from the prison of the old 
Charlie mask. His figure is developing and gaining in depth 
and stature both socially and psychologically. The inevitably 
stereotyped character of a grotesque mask no longer satisfies 
him. The Charlie mask, that figure of unprecedented popularity 
throughout the whole world, the mask which has so long 
gagged Charles Chaplin the great artist and great man, was in 
fact eventually discarded in Monsieur Verdoux. 

Modern Times was the first step in this direction. Charlie 
now rarely wears his little bowler, the little cane has left his 
hands, the shoes on his waddling feet are not so long. And 
those who watched the last shot of the film with attention, 
will remember that the Chaplin sitting in the ditch with the 
girl no longer wears the old mask and is no longer funny, but 
a clean, earnest-faced man. It was obvious then that in his next 
film Charlie would speak. 

In The Great Dictator Chaplin was already speaking. And 
he even had his little moustache shaved to be less like Hitler. 


There is another very interesting difference between the old 
Chaplin and the new, between the old grotesque figure and 
the new, many-faceted personality. In the last shot of Modern 
Times Charlie for the first time does not go his ways alone but 
with a girl friend. The silent Charlie was not only silent, he 
was also always alone and lonely ! 


It has already been said that the sound film was not an 
organic continuation of the silent film, but another art in its 
own right, just as painting is not a more highly developed form 
of black and white graphic art but a different art altogether. 
We can easily imagine that they might have emerged in 
inverted sequence. If the sound film had been invented first, 
someone might still have had the idea of using dumb-show 
silent pictures to create a separate new art, the silent film. It 
might have been an artistic tit-bit for the select few, a collec- 
tor's piece for the highbrows in contrast to the more wide- 
spread and vulgar art of the sound film. But it might also 
have been much more. I could imagine, I might even dare to 
initiate (now that the sound film has become paramount) a new 
kind of silent film which would really present only those most 
specifically visual experiences which cannot find room in the 
sound film. I can also imagine quite concretely, and would 
like to initiate, a new kind of film lyric which would be a 
hitherto unknown synthesis of the silent and sound films. Its 
content would be not a story but a lyrical poem. One would 
hear the words of the poem and the images of a parallel- 
running picture film would form a silent accompaniment to 
these words, not as illustrations but as free associations of 
ideas, the two interpreting one another in counterpointed 
simultaneity, just as in a lied the melody and accompaniment 
are a complement to the words. The music of silent pictures 
would widen the film poem into a work of art in three voices, 
in which words, music and pictures would be merged into one 
organic whole. 



I have previously complained that the sound film did not 
develop into a revelation of a new world of acoustic experi- 
ence as we had expected and as it at the outset actually set 
itself to do. On the contrary it in part grew silent again where 
it had already sounded once. At first we heard the splash and 
rippling of every running water, we heard the thud of every 
footstep, the creaking of every door, the tinkling of every 
glass. The sound film seemed noisier than noisy life itself. The 
sound film of to-day uses sound much more sparingly and 
rightly so, for where sound is only a natural complement, it 
is as coarsely superfluous as would be the painting of a statue 
with the purpose of making it seem more lifelike. Sound is 
justified only when it has artistic significance; that is, when it 
has some dramaturgical part to play or if it is required to 
establish an atmosphere. 


What is the cause and explanation of the fact that the world 
of noises, the presentation of the acoustic milieu, has been 
relegated to the background even as a theme, although the 
technique of sound recording seemed to be the very thing for 
reproducing these effects and experiences? In the course of its 
development the sound film reverted to a stage more primitive 
than that reached by the silent film and again came closer to 
the style of the theatre. 

The cause and explanation is the word. For the sound film 
is also a talking film. The silent film, in which the word could 
play no constructive part, developed the expression of 
emotional, non-rational experiences in a visual form-language. 
The sound film, with its acoustic form-language, could not 
develop the non-rational side of emotional experience in the 
same way. For in it the rational word had to be allotted its 
proper place, otherwise it would have been a sound-accom- 
panied silent film, or a film of mutes. The conceptual inter- 
preting force and content of the word, its ability to recall the 
past and forecast the future not only rendered superfluous 


many roundabout visual and acoustic devices developed for 
this purpose by the silent film, but completely crowded them 
out of the film by force of the aesthetic law of impermeability 
already mentioned. 

All these are realities of the evolving history of the film 
about which it would be vain to argue. No theory could alter 
this practice. But we maintain that the power of theory to 
render conscious what is instinctive can grow into a material 
force and while it is itself a result of evolution, can dialectically 
react on evolution and influence it. This return of the sound 
film to a previous stage is not inevitable and final. Without 
reducing the importance of the word, the expression and artis- 
tic forming of acoustic experiences can (and I am certain will), 
again develop to a higher stage. I am sure that our sound-film 
makers will soon realize that in the sound film the use of the 
word offers quite different possibilities and is therefore faced 
with quite different tasks than the dialogue on the theatrical 


I believe there is a great future for the narrated film, in 
which the story is narrated by an invisible author-narrator. 
This device would free the visual presentation from having to 
show unimportant details merely in order to render the story 
intelligible — for we shall hear the words of the narrator tell- 
ing us what has happened. While he is doing so the pictures 
can show the internal happenings in a counterpointed associa- 
tion of ideas and thus open a depth-dimension to the film 
which it did not possess before. 

This kind of sound film, the birth of which is imminent, will 
again be able to use, and thus save for us, the high degree of 
visual culture once already attained by the silent film. 




The technical problems of the colour film have 
no interest for us. Colour in the film has artistic significance 
only if it expresses some specifically filmic experience. If it 
merely wanted to compete with the artistic effects of painting, 
it would be doomed to defeat from the outset and could never 
be anything but a primitive and trite parody of the greatest 
and most ancient art. The artistic reason for colour cinemato- 
graphy can lie only in the experience and expression of colour 
in motion. 


One of the dangers of the colour film is the temptation to 
compose the shots too much with a view to a static pictorial 
effect, like a painting, thus breaking up the flow of the film 
into a series of staccato jerks. On the other hand the filming of 
colours in movement, provided our technique is sensitive 
enough to record them and our sensitivity sufficiently 
developed to absorb them, could open up a vast domain of 
human experience which could not find expression in any 
other art, least of all in painting. For a painter may paint 
a flushed face but never a pale face slowly being warmed to 
rose-red by a blush; he can paint a pale face but never the 
dramatic phenomenon of blanching. 

Why does the beauty of a painted sunset often strike us as 
trivial, although in nature a sunset is always exciting and 
interesting? Because in reality a sunset is an event, not a static 
condition, it is a change of colour, a transition from one spec- 
tacle to the next which is often rendered a mere formula by 
the rigid abstraction of a painting. 



In the first colour film made by the Russian director Ekk 
we see a boorish foreman pursuing a girl with unwelcome 
attentions. The girl rebuffs him indignantly and we see the 
gentle blue of her eyes darken and an angry glint come into 
them. Colours can by their changing express emotions and 
passions which mere facial expression without colour could 
not convey. Changes of colour add shadings and delicacy to 
the play of the features. For a change of colour can be most 
expressive even if not a muscle moves in the face. Here is a 
possibility of extending microphysiognomics by means of 

The movement of colour is sometimes so delicate as to be 
imperceptible but nevertheless effect a change in atmosphere. 
A landscape shown at noon in summer, although it appears 
motionless, yet makes quite a different impression in a colour 
film than on the best painting. For however skilfully a good 
painter can convey the effect of vibrating hot air, he can never 
match the effect of the colour film in which the dark-blue sky 
really vibrates, and thereby, however imperceptibly, changes 
the impression made on us by the landscape. 


The cutting of colour films also brought new problems and 
tasks. Not only must the colours following upon each other 
be in harmony — there is also the point that the black-and- 
white picture was much more homogeneous, much more of one 
material. The difference in colour differentiates things and 
figures much more sharply than the old grey films did. The 
formal rules of dissolves are much influenced by this fact. 
The coloured forms appear more massive and merge into each 
other far less easily than the less weighty grey light-and- 
shadow photographs — unless they happen to dissolve into their 
dominant colour. The dissolve based on similarity of form, 
much used in the silent film, can seldom be used in colour 
films, because here the most characteristic feature of a figure 
is not its shape but its colour. 

Thus the similarity or contrast of the colour plays a very 
important part in the editing of a colour film, and that not only 


for formal reasons, but because colours have an extraordinary 
symbolic effect, an intense power of evoking associations of 
ideas and inspiring emotions. 

Another difficulty in the cutting of colour films is due to 
the fact that colour lends depth and perspective to the shots. 
No longer do two-dimensional images slide into each other on 
the same plane. Colour enables us to distinguish things in the 
background which in a similar black-and-white film would 
have been a mere greyish fog. In a black-and-white picture the 
impression of distance is a negative effect: it consists in our 
not seeing things clearly. In a coloured background, however, 
we see quite clearly that such and such an object is far away, 
and we find it more difficult to withdraw our gaze again and 
again as the pictures change. 


The stereoscopic film will naturally make the problem of 
editing even more difficult. One of the essential effects of the 
old film was the effortless ease of change, rendered possible by 
the depthless shadows of the black-and-white film. It is difficult 
to imagine that in the coloured, stereoscopic sound film which 
will give us a complete illusion of palpable three-dimensional 
reality, the shots could follow upon each other in rapid succes- 
sion, with the speed of thought-association. We must also 
remember that the stereoscopic film which produces the illu- 
sion that the figures on the screen are three-dimensional and 
protrude into the audience, will break up even more that 
traditional closed composition of the picture which was from 
the birth of the film a specific trait of the new art. In this 
respect the stereoscopic film will be even more 'filmic' than the 
two-dimensional film. But so far as the rhythm of the cutting 
is concerned, it will demand a very different set of rules, quite 
new rules. 

Colour and particularly the change of colour can play a 
dramaturgical part, can influence the course of the action. It 
may also have a symbolic significance. In the film by Ekk, 
already mentioned, the last shot shows the girl waving a white 
cloth from a tower as a signal. But she is wounded and the 


white cloth, stained with her blood, is transformed into a red 
flag. This has a decisive effect on events. The workers in the 
factory see a red flag waving from the tower. 

However, colour, unlike the more decisively significant 
word, cannot essentially change the dramaturgical structure 
of a film; it can only sometimes enhance the significance of 
certain scenes. 


The quickest and most final victory of colour was its con- 
quest of the cartoon world. Not only because it offered fewer 
technical difficulties, but because, for the time being, it was 
easier to produce artistic effects here, where the colours could 
be chosen and painted, and did not have to be photographed. 
The artistic presentation of the movement of colours has been 
so little able to approach our natural experiences that a well- 
photographed sunset or sunrise will still be richer in colour 
shadings than any colour cartoon, however skilfully painted. 



Not so very long ago it was still difficult to convince the 
Philistines that the film was an independent, autonomous new 
art with laws of its own. To-day this is scarcely ever questioned 
and it is also admitted that the literary foundation of the new 
art, the script, is just as much a specific, independent literary 
form as the written stage play. The script is no longer a 
technical accessory, not a scaffolding which is taken away once 
the house is built, but a literary form worthy of the pen of 
poets, a literary form which may even be published in book 
form and read as such. Of course scripts can be good or bad, 
like any other literary work, but there is nothing to prevent 
them from being literary masterpieces. That the literary form 
of the film script has not yet had a Shakespeare, a Calderon, 
a Moliere, an Ibsen is no matter — it will have some day. In 
any case, we do not even know whether there may or may not 
have been some great masterpiece lost among the thousands 
of film scripts to which we paid not the slightest attention. 
We never searched for masterpieces among them, often even 
denied the very possibility of one being found in such an un- 
likely place. 

Most cinema-goers do not realize that what they are watch- 
ing is the staging of a film script, very much as they would be 
watching the staging of a play in the theatre. And even in the 
theatre, how many spectators think of this? If the newspaper 
reviews did not discuss the play itself and the performance of 
it as two distinct subjects, few theatre-goers would think of 
the literary creative work that has to precede every stage per- 
formance of a play. 

That public opinion distinguishes more easily between play 
and stage performance than between script and screened film 
is due to the fact that a play can be performed in many ways 



in many theatres, thus demonstrating that the play has an 
existence of its own apart from the performance. The film on 
the contrary mostly absorbs the script completely so that it is 
not preserved as an independent object which could be used 
again for a different film production. In most cases it is not 
available in print; it is not yet an accepted custom to publish 
scripts for reading. 

The film script is an entirely new literary form, newer even 
than the film itself, and so it is scarcely surprising that no 
books on the aesthetics of literature mention it as yet. The 
film is fifty years old, the script as a literary form only twenty- 
five at most. It was in the twenties of this century, in Germany, 
that specially interesting scripts first began to be published. 

In this again the film slavishly copied the development of 
the stage. There had been highly developed and popular 
theatre, there had been great playwrights for centuries before 
plays began to be written down and made available for read- 
ing outside the theatre. In ancient Greece, in the Middle Ages 
and in the Renaissance the written play was always a product 
of a later differentiation. The drama began with ritual or 
improvisation, or was born on the stage itself out of the per- 
manent characters of the commedia delV arte. The stage is a 
much older thing than the play. It is well known that Shakes- 
peare's plays were pieced together later from the parts written 
out for the actors. 

In the same way the film is much older than the script. 
'Much' here means about twenty years — but that is nearly 
half of the whole history of the film. 

When the film began, there was no script; the director im- 
provised each scene on the set, telling each actor what to do 
during the next shot. The sub-titles were written and cut in 

The film script was born when the film had already devel- 
oped into an independent new art and it was no longer possible 
to improvise its new subtle visual effects in front of the camera; 
these had to be planned carefully in advance. The film script 
became a literary form when the film ceased to aim at literary 
effects, planted itself firmly on its own feet and thought in 
terms of visual effects. The picture sequences of the photo- 


graphed theatre could be written down in the form of a stereo- 
typed stage play; but a film using specific visual effects could 
no longer be pressed into the form of the drama, nor of the 
novel. A new form was needed. Its terms of reference and its 
novelty were determined by the paradoxical task it had to 
fulfil, which was to present in words the visual experiences of 
the silent film, that is, something that could not be adequately 
expressed in words. 

The first scripts were in fact mere technical aids, nothing 
but lists of the scenes and shots for the convenience of the 
director. They merely indicated what was to be in the picture, 
and in what order but said nothing about how it was to be 

In the days of the silent film the importance of the literary 
script grew in the same measure in which the adventurous 
film stories were simplified and the films themselves given a 
deeper meaning. The type of imagination the adventure-story 
writers possessed was no longer suitable; a special filmic 
imagination was required, subtle visual ideas without intricate 
plots. The intensity of the close-up drove out the complicated 
story and brought a new literary form into being. 

Such a simplification of the story did not, however, simplify 
the film at all. There was less adventure, but more psychology. 
The development turned inward and script-writing was now a 
task worthy of the pen of the best writers. 

It should be said here that this decline of the adventure 
story was not the only trend in the development of the silent 
film. There was at the same time a leaning towards the most 
exotic romanticism — and both these trends can be traced to 
the same origins. They were both escapist trends, but running 
in opposite directions. On the one hand the film provided 
escape into exotic, romantic adventure, on the other escape 
to some particle of reality entirely isolated from the rest. 

With the birth of the talkie the script automatically came 
to be of paramount importance. It needed dialogue, as a play 
did, but it needed very much more than that. For a play is 
only dialogue and nothing else; it is dialogue spoken, as it 
were in a vacuum. The stage, though indicated by the author's 
directions, is not presented in literary form. In the abstract 


spiritual space of the drama the visual surroundings of the 
dramatis personae were a mere background which could not 
influence their state of mind and hence could not take part 
in the action. But in the film visible and audible things are 
projected on to the same plane as the human characters and 
in that pictorial composition common to them all they are all 
equivalent participants in the action. For this reason the 
script-writer cannot deal with the scene of action by means of 
a few stage directions. He must present, characterize, depict the 
visual aspect as well as the rest, express it by literary means, 
but in much greater detail than for instance the novelist, who 
may leave a great deal to the imagination of his readers. In 
the script the script-writer must define the part played by the 
images of things every bit as carefully as all the other parts, 
for it is through them that the destinies of the human charac- 
ters fulfil themselves. 

Thus the now fully developed and mature film art had born 
a new fruit, a new literary form, the film script. By now many 
scripts are available in print and soon they may be more 
popular reading than the more abstract stage play. It is diffi- 
cult to say how much time must elapse before our literary 
critics finally notice this new phenomenon born before their 
eyes; for this reason we shall try to define the laws govern- 
ing this new literary form. 

The problem is : in what respect does the film script differ 
from the stage play or the novel. The question is put in this 
form because it will be easiest to define the specific principles 
and laws of the script by defining the essential qualities which 
distinguish it from the other forms most closely related to it. 

The present-day script is not an unfinished sketch, not a 
ground-plan, not a mere outline of a work of art, but a com- 
plete work of art in itself. The script can present reality, give 
an independent, intelligible picture of reality like any other 
form of art. True, the script puts on paper scenes and dialogues 
which later are to be turned into a film; but so does the drama 
put on paper the stage performance. And yet the latter is 
regarded as a literary form superior to the former. 

Written music is only a symbol of the music to be produced 
by the instruments, but nevertheless no one would call a 


Beethoven sonata 'unfinished' or a 'sketch' because of this. 
We even have film scripts now which are intended for reading 
and could not be shot — just as there are 'book' plays which 
could never be staged. Nevertheless such scripts are not novels 
or short stories or stage plays — they are film scripts. They 
belong to a new literary form. 

The basic fact which underlies every form of film and 
determines the laws governing the script is that the film is an 
audible spectacle, a motion picture, i.e. an action played out in 
the present, before our eyes. 

One of the things that follows from this basic fact is that 
the script, like the drama, can present only 'real time'. The 
author cannot speak for himself in the script, just as he can- 
not in the drama. The author cannot say 'meanwhile time 
passed . . .', he cannot say '. . . After many years . . .' or '. . . 
after this . . .'.The script cannot refer to the past, cannot tell 
us about something that happened long ago or in some other 
place, it cannot summarize events, as the epic forms can. The 
script can only present what can be enacted before our eyes, in 
the present, in a space and time accessible to our senses; in 
this it is similar to the drama. 

How, then, does the script differ from the drama? 

In the film, as on the stage, the action is visible and audible, 
but on the stage it is enacted in real space (the space of the 
stage) by live human beings (the actors). The film on the other 
hand shows only pictures, images of that space and of those 
human beings. The film does not present some action played 
out in the imagination of a poet, but an actual event enacted 
in real space by real human beings in nature or in a studio, but 
presents only a picture, a photograph of these events. Thus it is 
neither a figment of the brain nor immediate reality. 

The upshot of this is that the script as a literary form can 
contain only what is visible and audible on the screen. This 
appears to be a truism if we do not examine the bounds set by 
this rule. But it is on this that everything turns. 

In one of the finest Soviet films, Chapayev, the political 
commissar attached to Chapayev's partisan troop arrests one 
of the partisan leaders for stealing a pig. But why lock him 
up on the farm where they are staying? There is only a dilapi- 


dated barn with a broken door that cannot be locked. We see 
this because the giant partisan more than once pushes his 
tiger-like head through the door. He could of course come 
out at will. What prevents him from kicking down the whole 
tumbledown contraption? That Furmanov, the political com- 
missar has placed a sentry to guard the door? But the sentry 
is even more decrepit than the barn; he is a hollow-chested 
short-sighted, pitiful little figure, a clerk who scarcely knows 
one end of his rifle from the other. The giant, savage partisan 
could blow the funny little man away with a breath of his 
mighty lungs. But he does not do so. It is thus made obvious 
that what holds the giant captive is not physical force but a 
moral influence. And we can see this moral influence, it is 
quite unmistakably manifested in a pictorial effect. 

Then Chapayev himself comes to release his friend. But the 
ridiculous, miserable little private who is guarding the 
prisoner, bars his way. Whose way? The way of the com- 
mander, the tremendously strong, fierce, dangerous Chapayev, 
who rages, flings his sword away — but does not shove the 
ridiculous little soldier out of the way. Why? Here again it is 
not physical force that stops Chapayev, but a moral power 
rendered evident by the visible, pictorial presentation; a moral 
force incarnated in the hollow-chested, short-sighted clumsy 
little man put there on guard by the representative of the Party. 
It is the authority of the Communist Party which even the un- 
disciplined, unruly, fierce partisans respect and which endows 
the ridiculous little sentry with a conscious dignity. 

Here the authority of the Party, although it may seem an 
abstract idea, has been rendered visible in a dramatic scene, and 
thus something that can be photographed. It is to be particu- 
larly noted that in this example there are no symbolic or 
'metaphorical' shots, they are all quite real, ordinary, pictures 
with nothing improbable about them and yet they radiate a 
'deeper meaning'. 


In analysing the basic difference between the drama and its 
stage presentation, Lessing outlined the difference between the 


[film script and the film a century and a half before their time. 
His definition of the nature and laws governing the stage 
were so brilliant that now, 150 years later, they helped us to 
define the different laws and the different nature of a different 
although not entirely unrelated art. 

At the beginning of his Hamburgische Dramaturgie he 
speaks of plays made from novels and says : 'It is not at all 
difficult ... to expand single emotions into scenes . . . but to 
be able to transpose oneself from the point of view of a narra- 
tor to the true point of view of each character and instead of 
describing their passions make these come into existence under 
the eyes of the spectator and develop without a break in an 
illusory continuity — that is what is needed here.' In this pas- 
sage all is said about the most essential difference between 
drama and epic. The same difference exists between the film 
script and the epic. Like the drama, the script does not describe 
the passions but makes them come into being and develop 
under the eyes of the spectator. But in this same passage 
Lessing also defined the difference between the drama and the 
film script and has helped us to understand one of the basic 
principles of film art. He says that the drama presents the 
passions without a break, in an illusory continuity. And truly 
this is the specific quality of the drama; such continuity is a 
necessary consequence of the fact that the drama is written 
for the stage. For a character coming on to the stage is under 
our eyes in uninterrupted continuity, without a break, until it 
leaves the stage again. 


The novelist can take his readers into a large gathering and 
then deal with only one person of all the company. He can 
tell the whole life-story of that one person without inform- 
ing the reader of what the other people present were doing 
all that time. The reader may easily forget that they are there 
at all. In the epic forms such 'jumps' are possible and the illu- 
sion of an unbroken continuity of scene is not imperative as it 
is on the stage. This is the basic difference between epic and 
dramatic forms. 


In this respect, however, the film script is related to the 
epic rather than the dramatic form. The film, like the epic, is 
not bound to maintain the illusion of unbroken continuity, 
— such continuity is not even possible. In a film scene all the 
persons present at the same place not only need not all be 
visible in every shot but to show them all, all the time, would 
even be contrary to the style and technique of the film. The 
public has the illusion that the participants in the scene are 
present, but they are not always all of them visible. In cease- 
lessly changing short shots and close-ups we see only those 
whose face or words happen to be needed just then. The film 
can lift such a figure out of the greatest crowd and devote 
special attention to it, penetrate deeply into its emotions and 
psychology. In this the film and the film script are related to 
the epic. 

The film can interrupt the continuity of a scene not only by 
not showing all the persons in a scene all the time — the whole 
scene itself can be interrupted, the film show a different scene 
enacted in quite a different place, and then the previously 
interrupted scene can be continued. This is inconceivable on the 
stage. The possibility of showing in parallel sequence more 
than one simultaneous action is a quite specific feature of the 
film and hence a specific possibility of the film script as an 
art form. 

The unity of space thus binds the film even less than the 
least form-bound of dramas. For the drama cannot in the 
middle of a scene show another scene enacted in quite a differ- 
ent place and then return to continue the original scene. The 
law of the unity of space does not apply to the film at all. But 
the unity of time all the more so. For even if we interrupt 
a scene and the interpolated scene is enacted elsewhere, it 
must not be enacted at another time. It must happen neither 
sooner nor later, but at the same time, else the audience would 
either not understand what was going on or would not believe 



The question now arises : if there are several characters on 
the stage but only one or two of them are really engaged in 
speech or action, do not the others pale into mere lifeless 
properties? (This is what the technique of the film enables 
us to avoid.) In a good play this cannot happen, because a 
good play always has a central problem which organically 
binds together all the dramatis personae. Whatever is said on 
the stage, whoever says it, always concerns questions vital to 
all the characters and therefore they all remain alive and 
interesting. Thus the technical requirements of the stage deter- 
mine the literary structure of the drama. 

As we have seen, the technical requirements of the film are 
different and therefore the literary structure of the script is 
different too. The single central problem, the grouping around 
a single central conflict, which characterizes the structure of 
the drama, is contrary to the nature of the film, the technical 
conditions of which are different. The visual nature of the film 
does not tolerate a structure consisting of a few long scenes. 
The reason for this is that while long scenes without a change 
of setting are possible if they are full of internal movement 
and people can talk in a room for hours if their words express 
some internal movement or internal struggle, the film, in which 
the decisive element is always the visual, cannot be content 
with such long-drawn, merely internal — and hence non-visible — 
events. The film requires an external, visible, 'shootable' pic- 
ture for every internal happening. For this reason the film 
script — again like the novel — does not centralize the conflicts 
but faces the characters with a series of problems in the course 
of the story. 

One of the laws governing the form of the film script is its 
prescribed length. In this it resembles the drama, the length 
of which is determined by the duration feasible on the stage. 
Of course there are also dramas which are not intended to 
be performed and which disregard this condition. In the same 
way it is possible to write fine film scripts intended only for 
reading and not for shooting as a film. 


The film, too, has by now developed a standard length, 
partly for business reasons, to enable the motion picture 
theatres to give several shows daily; but there are also physio- 
logical reasons which have limited the length of films. 
For the time being, films longer than ten thousand feet tire 
the eye. 

These are merely external, technical considerations. But it 
often happens in art that external technical conditions harden 
into laws governing the internal artistic composition of the 
work. The short story was created by the predetermined length 
of the newspaper feature and this art form then brought forth 
such classics as the short stories of Maupassant or Chekhov. 
Architectural forms dictated many a composition of sculpture. 

The predetermined length may also determine the content. 
The prescribed length of the sonnet determines its style. No 
one is forced to write sonnets or film scripts. But if one does, 
the predetermined length must not become a bed of Procrustes 
which curtails or draws out the required content. The theme, 
content and style of the film script must be inspired by the 
predetermined length of it. This predetermined length is in 
itself a style, which the script-writer must master. 

By now the script has come to be an independent literary 
form. It was born of the film as the drama was born of the 
stage play. In the course of time the drama gained precedence 
over the stage play and now it is the drama that prescribes 
the tasks and style of the stage, and the history of the stage 
has long been merely an appendage to the history of the 

In the film there is as yet no trace of a similar development. 
But it will come in time. Up to now the history of the film 
script has been merely a chapter in the history of the film. 
But soon the script may in its turn determine the history of 
the film. Present developments certainly point in this direc- 

In discussing the specific laws of the film script as a literary 
form there is, however, need for some further remarks. No 
art and no art form consists exclusively of specific elements, 
because the reproduction of reality has certain basic principles 
which are universally valid for every art. These principles, 


however, can be readily found in any text-book on aesthetics. 
Nevertheless, all things can be characterized the most precisely 
by means of the specific peculiarities which differentiate them 
from all other things. It is this specific trait which determines 
the varying forms of manifestation taken in each art by ele- 
ments basically common to them all. For instance, painting 
can express not only experiences 'purely' and 'absolutely' per- 
taining only to the art of painting — it can also express motives 
borrowed from literature, philosophy, psychology — in fact 
every kind of thought and emotion. But whatever may be the 
content it expresses, such content will have to be made appar- 
ent in the specific material of painting, that is, in the form of 
visual impressions — otherwise it would not be made manifest 
at all. Hence if we talk of painting, we must first define its 
specific material. 

The art of the film does not consist solely of specific film 
effects (any more than painting consists of colour effects alone) 
— however fiercely the fanatics of the absolute film cham- 
pioned such a limitation. In it, as in other art forms, we can 
find elements of dramatic presentation and of psychological 
characterization. But one thing is certain: in the film the^e 
elements can appear only in the form of moving and talking 
pictures, that is, they must conform to the specific laws of 
film art. 

It has been said that the content determines the form. But 
things are not quite so simple as all that, and one need not 
take this rule to mean that for ages writers had been hatching 
film themes, film stories and film characters which could not 
be presented in novels or plays; that these poor authors had to 
wait decade after decade for the possibility of visual expression, 
until finally they went to the Lumiere brothers and ordered a 
cinematograph, the new form to fit the new content. 

History tells us that the reverse is what actually happened. 
Lumiere had been photographing stage performances for a 
dozen years before a truly filmic, genuinely specific film story 
could be born. The hammer and the chisel were not invented 
by sculptors for their own ends. The technique of the film 
was known for some time. But it did not develop into a new 
form-language until a new content, a new and different mess- 


age was added to it. The hammer and chisel would have for 
ever remained the tools of the stonemason, if there had been 
no human being who had experiences which could be best 
expressed by hewing stone into shape with hammer and 
chisel. But if a form of art has once developed, then its 
specific laws determine by dialectic interaction the suitable, 
specific themes and contents. The script- writers must make 
their contents conform to the laws governing the fully devel- 
oped art form of the film. 

Then new contents, too, may for a long time be contained 
in older forms, setting up tensions and causing slight changes 
in them until after a certain, perhaps a long, time, the new 
content bursts the old form and creates a new one. But this, 
too, is done within the bounds of the art form in question. The 
drama still remains drama, the novel novel, the film film. Only 
once in our history have we experienced the birth of a com- 
pletely new art — the art of the film. 

The dialectic interrelation of form and content can be com- 
pared with the interrelation of a river and its bed. The water 
is the content, the river-bed the form. Without a doubt it was 
the water that at one time dug itself this bed — the content 
created the form. But once the river bed is made it collects 
the waters of the surrounding countryside and gives them 
shape. That is, the form shapes the content. The power of 
mighty floods is required before the waters, over-flowing the 
old bed, dig an entirely new bed for themselves. 




I t i s a n accepted practice that we adapt novels and plays 
for the film; sometimes because we think their stories 'filmic', 
sometimes because the popularity they have gained as novels 
or plays is to be exploited in the film market. Original film 
stories are very few and far between, a circumstance which 
undoubtedly points to the undeveloped state and imperfections 
of script-writing. 

There is little point in discussing the practical aspects of 
this question. Shall we demand original film stories when even 
all the adaptations taken together are insufficient to satisfy 
the demand? In practice the law of supply and demand decides 
the issue. If there were a greater supply of good original film 
stories, there would probably be less adaptations from other 

We however are at the present moment interested in the 
laws of art and not the law of supply and demand. The method 
of adapting novels or plays may obey the latter law — 
but does it not contravene the laws of art? Must not such 
pandering to a practical demand necessarily be detrimental to 
the interests of art and the aesthetic culture of the public? 

'Necessarily', is the key word here, because on it depends 
whether the problem is one of principle. For if such adapta- 
tions can be good in principle then it is for the film critics to 
decide in each case whether they are well or ill done and 
there is no theoretical problem. 

There is, however, an old — one could almost say classic — 
aesthetic viewpoint which rejects on principle all adaptations 
on the grounds that they are necessarily inartistic. Here is a 
problem that is of the greatest interest for the theory of art 
because, although the opponents of adaptations base them- 
selves on an undoubtedly correct thesis, they are nevertheless 



wrong. The history of literature is full of classic masterpieces 
which are adaptations of other works. 

The theoretical reason on which the opposition to adapta- 
tions is based is that there is an organic connection between 
form 1 and content in every art and that a certain art form 
always offers the most adequate expression for a certain con- 
tent. Thus the adaptation of a content to a different art form 
can only be detrimental to a work of art, if that work of art 
was good. In other words, one may perhaps make a good film 
out of a bad novel, but never out of a good one. 

This theoretically impeccable thesis is contradicted by such 
realities as these : Shakespeare took the stories of some of his 
very good plays from certain very good old Italian tales and 
the plots of the Greek classical drama were also derived from 
older epics. 

Most of the classical dramas used the material of the old 
epics and if we turn the pages of Lessing's Hamburgische 
Dramaturgic we will find that the very first three reviews in it 
deal with plays adapted from novels. It should be mentioned 
that the author of the immortal art philosophy contained in 
Laokoon, whose concern was precisely to find the specific laws 
governing each form of art, found much to criticize in the 
plays which he reviewed, but had no objection to their being 
the adaptations of novels. On the contrary, he proffered much 
good advice as to how such adaptations could be more skil- 
fully done. 

The contradiction appears so obvious that one must wonder 
why no learned aestheticist ever bothered to clear up this prob- 
lem. For if the objection on principle to adaptations were 
merely a theoretical error, the matter would be simple. But 
it is not an error; it is a logical conclusion from the un- 
deniably correct thesis about the connection between content 
and form. 

It is obvious that the contradiction here is only apparent — 
an undialectic nailing-down of partial truths. It may be worth 
while to probe deeper for the source of the error. 

To accept the thesis that the content or material determines 
the form and with it the art form, and nevertheless to admit the 
possibility of putting the same material into a different form, 


is thinkable only if the terms used are used loosely, that is if 
the terms 'content' and 'form' do not exactly cover what we 
are accustomed to call material, action, plot, story, subject, etc. 
on the one hand, and 'art form' on the other. There can be no 
doubt that it is possible to take the subject, the story, the plot 
of a novel, turn it into a play or a film and yet produce per- 
fect works of art in each case — the form being in each case 
adequate to the content. How is this possible? It is possible 
because, while the subject, or story, of both works is identical, 
their content is nevertheless different. It is this different content 
that is adequately expressed in the changed form resulting 
from the adaptation. 

The unsophisticated and naive believe that life itself pro- 
vides the writer with ready-made dramas and novels. Accord- 
ing to this view every event has an a priori, immanent affinity 
to a certain form of art; that life itself determines what happen- 
ings are suitable for a play, for a novel or for a film; the writer 
is given, as it were, a pre-determined material as a definite 
subject susceptible of being used in only one way, in only one 
art form. If a certain subject takes his fancy, he cannot use 
the art form he pleases — that has been already decided by the 
artistic predetermination inherent in reality itself. 

The world outside us, however, has an objective reality 
which is independent of our consciousness and hence indepen- 
dent of our artistic ideas. Reality has colours, shapes and 
sounds but it can have no immanent affinity to painting, sculp- 
ture or music, for these are specifically human activities. 
Reality does not of itself curdle into any art form, not even 
into subjects suitable for definite art forms, and waiting like 
ripe apples for some artist to pick them. Art and its forms are 
not a priori inherent in reality but are methods of human 
approach to it, although of course this approach and its 
methods are also elements of reality as a whole. 

These methods of approach are naturally neither arbitrary 
nor is their number unlimited. In the cultural sphere of civi- 
lized humanity several such methods of approach (or art 
forms) have evolved as historically given objective forms of 
culture, and although they are merely subjective forms by 
means of which human consciousness approaches reality, they 


nevertheless appear to the individual as being objectively 
given. The parallel of the dialectic interaction of river and 
river-bed could again be quoted here as the model for the 
mutual relationship of material and art form. 

Hence, if there is a 'dramatic' theme or subject which 
appears specific because it already shows the peculiar charac- 
teristics of the dramatic art form, then it is already content 
(which really determines the form it can take) and no longer 
mere 'material' i.e. merely the raw material of living reality, 
which cannot as yet determine its art form and could be 
the content of any of them not yet being content in its own 

Such specific themes (or contents) are no longer mere frag- 
ments of reality — they are an approach to reality from the 
viewpoint of a certain form of art. One might call them 'semi- 
fashioned' for they are already prepared to fit into a certain 
art form. If we call them 'themes' 'subjects' or 'stories', we 
are already using a correlative term which cannot be con- 
ceived in itself, but only as the theme of something, e.g. a 
drama, as the subject of a novel, as the story on which a 
film is based. Such can be found only in a reality already 
regarded from the angle of one or the other of the forms 
of art. 

What is the conclusion from this? That the raw material of 
reality can be fashioned into many different art forms. But a 
'content', which determines the form, is no longer such raw 

Are there not writers who write nothing but plays or nothing 
but novels? They, too, regard the entire reality of life, but 
only from the viewpoint of their own form of art, which has 
become an organic part of their approach. There are others 
who work in more than one art form; writers who regard life 
now with the eye of the novelist, now with the eye of the 
dramatist. So it may happen that they see the same bit of 
reality more than once; perhaps once as a drama and once 
as a film. But if this does happen, they would not be adapting 
their own drama for the screen. They would have gone back 
to their own basic experience and formed the same raw 
material once as a play, once as a film. It is quite certain that 


there are few outstanding events in history which have not 
served as material for ballads, plays, epics or novels. But a 
historical event is in itself only material, not theme. Material 
can still be regarded from the angle of various art forms. But 
a theme is already something regarded from the viewpoint of 
one or the other art form, lifted out of a multiform reality 
and developed into a dominant motif. Such themes can be 
adequately expressed in only one art form; they determine 
their art form, for they have themselves been determined by 
it. Such a theme, such a reality, such a material is already 
'content' and determines its form. 

Take a portrait. The reality of the model is as yet only 
raw material. It can be painted or drawn in black-and-white or 
modelled in clay. But if a true painter looks at the model, he 
will see colours in the first place, the colours will be the 
dominant characteristic and once this has happened the 
colours will no longer be raw material — they will be a theme 
for a painter, a content which determines the form, which is 
the art form, which is painting. A black-and-white artist will 
see the lines of the same model. Here, the same material will 
provide a different artistic theme, and this theme will be the 
content determining the art form, which will be drawing or 
etching or some other line technique. A sculptor may see the 
same model, and yet not the same model, for in his case it 
will be a model for a sculpture. The same material will pro- 
vide for him a theme of plastic shapes, and thereby determine 
the adequate art form, sculpture. 

The same applies to the literary forms. One writer may feel 
the atmosphere, the fleeting moods in a subject and take that 
for his theme; probably he will make it a short story. Another 
will see in the same subject a central conflict, an inexorable 
problem which demands a dramatic approach. The raw 
material of life may be the same, but the themes of the two 
writers will be different. And the different themes will give rise 
to different contents and demand different art forms. A third 
writer might come across the same event and see in it not the 
event itself but the inner adventures of human beings inter- 
acting with one another and showing the web of their destinies 
like a multicoloured carpet of life. This third writer would 


probably write a novel. Thus the same event as raw material 
regarded from three different angles can result in three themes, 
three contents, three forms of art. What mostly happens, how- 
ever, is that a subject already used in one form of art is 
adapted to another form — in other words, it would not be the 
same model sitting to three different artists but rather a draw- 
ing made after a painting, or a sculpture after a drawing. 
This is much more problematic than the other case. 

If, however, the artist is a true artist and not a botcher, 
the dramatist dramatizing a novel or a film-script writer adapt- 
ing a play may use the existing work of art merely as raw 
material, regard it from the specific angle of his own art form 
as if it were raw reality, and pay no attention to the form 
once already given to the material. The playwright, Shakes- 
peare, reading a story by Bandello, saw in it not the artistic 
form of a masterpiece of story-telling but merely the naked 
event narrated in it. He saw it isolated from the story form, 
as raw life-material with all its dramatic possibilities, i.e. possi- 
bilities which Bandello could never have expressed in a 

Thus although it is the raw material of a Bandello story 
that was given new form in a Shakespeare play, there is no 
trace of the main content of the play in the Bandello story. 
In that story Shakespeare saw a totally different theme and 
therefore the content that determined the art form of his play 
was also totally different. 

I would like to mention here a less well-known adaptation, 
for the reason that the poet who was its author was at the 
same time an accomplished theoretician who could explain 
how and why the adaptation was made. Friedrich Hebbel, the 
German playwright, wrote plays based on the mighty epic 
material of the Nibelung saga. It would be quite impossible 
to accuse Hebbel of insufficient respect for the eternal great- 
ness of the Germanic epic and its peerless formal perfection. 
Hebbel had no intention of improving on the Nibelung saga, 
nor can any intention of a popularization for money-making 
purposes be ascribed to this very serious writer. What then 
were his motives and his purpose in undertaking such an 


Hebbel himself gives the reason in his famous diary: 'It 
seems to me that on the foundation of the Nibelung saga one 
could build a purely human tragedy which would be quite 
natural in its motivation.' 

What, then, did Hebbel do? He kept the mythical founda- 
tion, that is the skeleton of the story. But he gave it a different 
interpretation. The actions and events remained largely the 
same, but were given other motives and explanations. 

Thus the same event, being given quite different emphasis, 
was turned into a different theme. The theme and content of 
Hebbel's Nibelung trilogy is not identical with that of the 
Nibelung saga. For although in Hebbel's drama Hagen kills 
Siegfried, as he does in the saga, he does so from entirely 
different motives and Kriemhild's vengeance, as depicted in 
Hebbel's drama, is a tragedy of a quite different order than the 
same event in the Germanic epic. 

Nearly every artistically serious and intelligent adaptation 
is such a re-interpretation. The same external action has quite 
different inner motives, and it is these inner motives which 
throw light on the hearts of the characters and determine the 
content which determines the form. The material, that is the 
external events, serve merely as clues, and clues can be inter- 
preted in many ways — as we know from the detective stories. 

It often happens that a writer uses a second time, in another 
art form, the material he himself has once already used in 
a certain art form. We know that nowadays, especially when 
it is a question of adapting novels or plays for the films, this 
is mostly done for financial reasons. A successful novel can 
be adapted first as a play and then as a film, and thus make 
money for its author several times over. But sometimes such 
adaptations are made with quite serious artistic intentions. 

Let us take a case in which no suspicion of financial motives 
can arise. We know that Goethe wanted to make a play out of 
his very interesting story The man of fifty', which is a part 
of his Wilhelm Meister. The plan of this play has been pre- 
served — it gives, already divided into acts and scenes, the con- 
tent of the projected play, which is the content of the story, 
only told in a different way. This different way very instruc- 
tively shows why Goethe felt the need of re-writing in another 


art form the material once already used. We can see in detail 
how in the projected play he stresses aspects which are 
scarcely or not at all perceptible in the short story, how he 
tries to bring to the surface a totally different layer of reality. 
The course of events is similar, but their significance is differ- 
ent and it contains a quite different inner experience. The 
reality from which he borrowed his material included this 
inner experience; but when he shaped his material into a short 
story, he had to pass by this inner experience; it was for this 
reason that he felt the urge of dipping once more into the 
depths of the same life-material by means of another art form. 
It may at first sound paradoxical to say that it is often 
a respect for the laws of style that govern the various art 
forms which makes adaptations justifiable and even necessary. 
The severe style of the drama, for instance, demands the 
omission of the multiple colours and changing moods of real 
life. The drama is the art form suited to great conflicts and 
the wealth of detail which a novel may contain finds no room 
in its severe structure. But sometimes the author is loath to 
let all the wealth of mood and detail go to waste and so he puts 
it into a novel rather than impair the pure style of the drama. 
And if an author wants to pour into a film the colours of life 
which are barred by the severe style of the drama, he does so 
not because he does not respect the style of the various art 
forms, but because he respects them absolutely. 



The form-language of film art, although it has 
acquired an extraordinary power of expression, seems to have 
remained almost stationary in the past two decades during 
which more attention was given to content than to form. Now, 
after the end of the second world war, the as yet unexploited 
formal possibilities of the sound film seem to be entering on a 
new development. 

After the first emergence of a filmic form-language, distinct 
styles and art forms began to develop within the framework of 
film art. The problems connected with the film styles are parti- 
cularly interesting and important because their social roots 
and significance are revealed more openly than in any other 
medium of art. 


This problem came to the fore in its most conscious form in 
the Soviet film, where general questions of principle always 
received much attention. The problem of the epic was among 
others the subject of heated arguments. Some demanded of the 
Soviet film that in conformity with its Socialist spirit, it should 
not depict intimate private affairs, but present only problems 
that concern the whole community — in other words that it 
should be of epic proportions. This not unjustified demand had 
its dangers, which soon showed in Soviet scripts; too little 
attention was given to the psychology of individuals and the 
films were sometimes less studies of human beings than histori- 
cal panoramas painted with a certain sociological pedantry 
and limited to generalizations. 

Contrasting the epic and the intimate in this way poses the 
question incorrectly. Until the beginning of the nineteenth cen- 



tury this mutually exclusive choice was never thought of at 
all. Can there be anything more private and intimate than the 
conversation of two lovers in each others' arms? The situation 
itself demands isolation, retirement, concealment. And yet the 
amorous dialogue of Romeo and Juliet is one of the most epic 
scenes in the dramatic literature of the world, for in this most 
intimate, private dialogue a historical turning-point is reached : 
the revolt of individual personal love against the fetters im- 
posed by the feudal, patriarchal family and the tribal laws. 

That Antigone loves and respects her brother is a private 
family matter, but in Sophocles' tragedy it becomes an epic 
because it is made problematic by the dominant social order. 

In former times art knew nothing of the contrast between 
the epic and the intimate, the great and the small, the univers- 
ally valid and the merely private. Such differentiation between 
private experience and socially significant event in the mode 
of presentation is a phenomenon specific to bourgeois art. 
This brought about on the one hand the purely introspective 
'chamber' art devoid of all social connections and on the other 
the decorative generalizations of the epic form which glosses 
over all individual traits. It is obvious from this that this 
problem could not survive very long in Soviet art and the 
Soviet film, and that the style of the newer Soviet forms was 
precisely the historical perspective manifested in private, 
individual human destinies. 

Monumentality in art is not a question of quantity. Neither 
numbers nor dimensions decide it. Defoe's Crusoe, alone on a 
desert island, is undoubtedly one of the most epic tales in 
world literature. It is a well-known fact that it is impossible to 
estimate the dimensions of a painting or a piece of sculpture 
from a photographic reproduction of it. Some of these, 
although small, give the impression of monumentality, and 
vice versa. What is decisive is the principle that in art only 
man can be great or little. The large size of an elephant or of 
a mountain is without significance in art for it is an external, 
natural quality; a matter of chance, which does not express 
any inner greatness. Only man's living image can give us the 
real epic quality and this impression is the mightier, the more 
individual even, the more personal the image. The reason for 


this is that we well know the dimensions of normal men and 
unaccustomed largeness is therefore all the more striking. The 
colossi of ancient Egypt impress us as monumental because in 
their faces, in the corners of their eyes and lips, there is some- 
thing individual, an almost intimately alive human expression. 
Without this they would be merely rocks resembling human 
beings, and rocks can be any size. As it is, they are human 
beings which resemble huge rocks and they impress us as 
superhuman because we can identify the human being and 
human proportions in them. If the outlines of a mountain 
remind one of the outlines of a human body, the mountain 
will appear smaller than its actual size. But if the statue of a 
man reminds one of a mountain through the weight of its 
forms, then it appears larger than its actual size — or in other 
words it will be monumental. The secret of the monumentality 
of the Ravenna mosaics is that they appear as individual 
portraits, although in reality they are huge architectural shapes 
formed out of stone. 

A film can never be made 'monumental' by the number of 
extras in crowd scenes or the size of the set, but only by the 
weight of its theme or the personality of its hero. The most 
intimate human experiences can be the result and reflection of 
great historical events. The question is only whether the author 
can see and show them as such without any pedantic explana- 


The question of stylization in the film is exceptionally com- 
plicated because the technique of photography had from the 
start determined unstylized naturalness as the basic principle 
of filmic presentation. But there is no art which could evolve 
its styles without stylization. Nevertheless there is a difference 
between style and stylization. 

We designate as style the formal characteristics of every art 
The peculiarities of the artist's personality and those of his 
people, his class and his time are all reflected in the formal 
style of the work of art. As there is no work of art in which 
the personality of the artist, the ideology of his class, the 


traditions of his people and the taste of his time is not to some 
extent reflected, there is no work of art without style, even if 
the style is unconscious or insignificant. 

It is important, however, that the work of art expresses the 
synthesis of all these influences in a unified style, in other 
words that the personal style of the artist, the style of his 
time and the style of his class and nation will all be mani- 
fested in the forms of a single style. In addition to this, every 
work of art worthy of the name has an ad hoc style of its 
own, in which its own content and tendency finds expression. 
It must also be remembered that the great historical styles 
came into being unconsciously and without theoretical inten- 
tions; they were born out of practice, almost imperceptibly, as 
mere fashions at first and only later, when they had already 
faded out, was it possible to recognize them as comprehensive, 
epoch-making 'styles'. Sometimes styles were born out of a 
false consciousness, based on false theories, such as the early 
Renaissance style which was intended only as a modest imita- 
tion of the ancient Greek style and regarded itself as such. Or 
a style could be born under the influence of some moral trend 
devoid of any aesthetic ideas, as for instance the severe sim- 
plicity of the directoire style which was an expression of the 
puritan spirit of the revolutionary bourgoisie as opposed to 
the aristocratic rococo. If we regard style as the general charac- 
ter of artistic forms, then even completely unstylized natural- 
ism is a style; even an eclectic mixture of styles can be a style. 
The word style does not in itself imply any sort of value 

So much for style. Stylization is quite another thing. The 
difference between style and stylization might best be illus- 
trated by the example of literature. Every literary work — it 
need not even be a work of art — has some sort of style in the 
sense that it formulates what it has to say in some characteris- 
tic manner. But not every work of literature is stylized. For 
instance, plays written in natural colloquial dialogue are not 
stylized, but all poetry and rhythmic prose is. 

There is thus a mutually exclusive contrast between 
naturalist, or near-naturalist, 'natural' works and works which 
intentionally deviate from the natural, are deliberately formed 


and tied, or in other words are stylized. Nevertheless styliza- 
tion and realism are not mutually exclusive. There are plenty 
of great realists among the poets who write in verse. For the 
truth and law resident in nature can be reproduced not merely 
by a servile imitation of nature but even more faithfully by a 
stylization which exaggerates and stresses certain points. The 
natural presentation may perhaps reproduce reality, but the 
stylized image expresses the truth. 

This problem of style interests us now only inasmuch as it 
concerns the film. Is stylization possible in the film? Can 
photography give a picture of life which would correspond, 
say, to a story told in verse? In other words, can the film 
tolerate a presentation the formative principle of which is not 
mere similarity to nature but some abstract law of rhythm and 
form? Can we make people talk in verse in a film without 
causing a disturbing contradiction to arise between stylized 
speech and the unstylized naturalness of the picture? 

We know that the film began seeking possibilities of styliza- 
tion from the very beginning, photographic technique notwith- 
standing. The directors strove to achieve the picturesque by 
composition, light effects, close-ups, soft focus, distortion and 
especially through the medium of angle and set-up. Swedish 
films especially sought poetic pictorial effects. Fritz Lang, 
Murnau and Robert Wiene, the creator of the expressionist 
Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, did much fine work in this direction 
in the days of the silent film and in Russia. Moskvin, the 
greatest pictorialist among cameramen, created together with 
Eisenstein (whose guiding artistic principle was precisely styli- 
zation) the most interesting and valuable stylized film in Ivan 
the Terrible. The real content of this demoniacally monu- 
mental musical-pictorial symphony is not the story of Ivan the 
Terrible but a revelation of the terrifying medieval Pravoslav- 
Orthodox Gothic spirit and superstition in pictures that are 
like old icons come to life. In this film the stylization has 
reached a culminating point. 

Nevertheless there is something that always requires to be 
natural in the film and which does not tolerate stylization. 
This does not apply to forms, which have often been success- 
fully stylized, but it does to movement. On the stage we accept 


and often do not even notice the unnatural gestures of the 
actors. The same applies to the film if we see the figures as 
on the stage, that is in a long shot, from a distance. Strangely 
enough it becomes intolerable, however, if a human being 
whom we see in close-up isolated from the environment, moves 
unnaturally. An exception to this rule is a dance when the 
unnaturalness of movement is motivated. In a long shot the 
figure is fitted into the visible setting and its stylized move- 
ments are in keeping with the style of the whole picture. We 
accept an unnatural line if it is balanced by a similar line on 
the other side of the frame. But if a figure or a face is so near 
to us that it is no longer merely a component of a larger com- 
position, and we see the smallest detail in the play of features, 
the curve of lip, the narrowing of an eye, that whole natural 
picture of the microphysiognomy which is not amenable to 
stylization, then an unnatural stylization of the poise of the 
head, the gesture of the hands, the movement of the feet will 
make an unpleasant impression on the spectator or strike 
him as funny. The stylization of outline contradicts the natural 
truth of the inner details. 

This explains why the film is difficult to stylize. The micro- 
physiognomy of the close-up, the intimate play of features, is 
not susceptible to stylization, and yet it is the very soul of the 
film. The most beautiful stylized long shots are unmasked by 
the intimate life of the close-up. The mask slips and the human 
being peeps out from behind it. It is for this reason, too, that 
we have no films in verse. Tied speech seems to contradict 
the natural movement of even a stylized film. 

The question does not arise, of course, in the case of the 
animated cartoon. There, on the contrary, it is complete 
naturalness that is almost unattainable and the stylization 
which is a necessary corollary of the animating technique 
determines the whole style of the film. If drawings talk in 
verse, no one is shocked. 

How is it possible then that we accept the singing film, the 
certainly unnatural film operetta and opera? The reason is 
that singing is a natural function of human beings. Thank 
goodness we can see and hear people singing everywhere, and 
very rarely may we even hear someone reciting a poem. But 


it is quite improbable that any human beings should discuss 
matters concerning their everyday lives with each other in the 
form of rhyming or rhythmic dialogue. When we watch and 
listen to a film opera, we know that it is an artistic presenta- 
tion and is not supposed to be nature. This point will be dis- 
cussed in greater detail in another chapter. 


In that synthesis of objective impression and subjective inter- 
pretation which is the basic process in every artistic work of 
creation, style and stylization undoubtedly come from the sub- 
jective side. For stylization is always a deviation from authen- 
tic, objective reality. The same object can be presented in a 
great variety of styles, according to subjective interpretations, 
even if the style is not an individual style but a national or 
class style. For even these will have to manifest themselves 
through the art of some individual creative artist. It is not the 
community of the people who produce works of art but single 
individuals belonging to this community. 

But here we find ourselves faced with a paradoxical prob- 
lem. If style is a subjective element of presentation, how is it 
then that the traditional folk styles have always been the most 
impersonal, most generally valid elements of art? What is the 
relationship between the arbitrarily stylizing, reality-deforming 
formalism of extreme subjectivism and the naive stylizing ten- 
dencies of folk art which so often result in abstract ornamenta- 
tion? Why is the one arbitrary subjectivism and the other im- 
personal, universally valid, objectively valuable. 

It has already been said here that the most original and 
ancient folk style can manifest itself only as the personal 
taste and artistic intention of some individual. And yet this 
personal taste and artistic intention will not be merely indivi- 
dual. Every artist who is vitally bound up with the society in 
which he lives will consciously or unconsciously represent in 
his ideology and feeling the people whose superpersonal tradi- 
tional style he quite naively regards as his own. 

Traditional folk styles are objective historical facts al- 
though stylization itself is a subjective process. If an artist 


can live and express in his works, as his own subjective experi- 
ence, this historical tradition transformed into objective pheno- 
mena, the result will be that happiest of coincidences, when 
the artist can create objective, general works of historical 
validity through his own most subjective, personal manifesta- 
tions. This is one of the rare cases when an art may be stylized 
to the limit and yet not be arbitrarily subjective. 

In the western cultural sphere such a contingency is almost 
unimaginable to-day, for ancient and primitive folk styles are 
not suitable for the presentation of modern industrialized life. 
And is there anywhere a traditional folk style which is not 
primitive and not antiquated, which could therefore be used to 
express present-day experiences? 

Citizens of Western Europe or America would certainly be 
startled if Homer or one of the singers of the Kalevala were 
suddenly to appear in a French literary cafe and it would be 
no less strange if someone were to sing of the rights between 
modern aeroplanes in the ancient rhythm and melody of the 
rhapsodies. And yet such strange things are happening now 
among the national minorities in the Soviet Union. The most 
surprising and striking evidence of this are the products of 
Central Asian folk poetry. But the same can be observed in 
the films made by the people of Soviet Asia, in the interesting 
productions of the Kazakhstan, Tashkent, Uzbek and Turk- 
men film studios. 

As everyone knows, the people of Central Asia awoke to the 
consciousness of their own national and folk culture only as 
a result of the cultural policy of the Soviet government. Until 
then it was merely a dwindling tradition, a memory in the 
minds of the old people. But under the Soviets not only was 
the almost forgotten tradition awakened to new life, but its 
revival and continuation stimulated and encouraged. Among 
the peoples of Central Asia the tradition of the old minstrels 
was still alive because the minstrels themselves still existed. 
Grey-haired old rhapsodists roamed the country from aul to 
aul with their two-stringed dombra, singing the ancient epics 
which were passed on from mouth to mouth and had never 
been written down. The Soviet government not only had these 
glorious old epics written down but saw to it that this last 


generation of the akins (as they were called in the Kazak lan- 
guage) turned their attention to the present-day life of the 
Soviet Union and sang not only of the old heroes but of the 
new exploits of the Red Army, while still preserving the old 
folk style and language. In doing this, the akins strongly in- 
fluenced the style of the younger generation of writers in these 
parts of the Soviet Union. 

Something that is almost a miracle has happened in our days 
in Soviet Asia, something that in the future may have a deci- 
sive influence on western art : modern life has been presented 
in the style of a folk art which has an ancient tradition and is 
nevertheless still alive to-day. Such things are not limited to 
the sphere of literature. Kazak and Tartar, Uzbek and Turk- 
men, Kirghiz and Yakut film directors, actors and script- 
writers, working in modern, well-equipped film studios and 
skilfully handling the latest technical means of film production, 
have grown up in the traditions of a still living folk art and 
have enjoyed the unique, enviable good fortune that they did 
not invent individual styles for themselves at the cost of im- 
mense effort, for the torrent of a live, great folk style swept 
them along. 



It is obvious that the film of an opera and a film opera 
belong to different forms of art. This is not a play on words. 
Bizet's Carmen or Verdi's Rigoletto and every classical opera 
can be shot as a sound film and thus a superlative performance 
may be perpetuated and popularized. Such films are necessary 
and valuable reproductions and are very useful in improving 
the musical taste of the public. But it has little to do with the 
problems and tasks of film art. The film opera on the other 
hand, which is intended and directed and composed for the 
film from the start, is a new musical form of art with new 
problems and new tasks. 

If the object is to adapt an already existing opera for the 
film, the work can be motivated by two intentions. One of 
them is to popularize high quality music in its unadulterated, 
original, classical form. The other motive may be that the 
subject and musical motifs of the opera seem to offer material 
for film presentation. In the first case we cannot treat the 
opera as novels or plays can be treated when adapted for the 
film — that is to say, we cannot regard it as raw material and 
remodel it in filmic style. The reason why this cannot be done 
is that the music, which is to be filmed and which must not 
be changed in any way, ties the adaptor to the existing order 
of scenes and acts. The music, crystallized around the action, 
must necessarily transfer the action unchanged to the film. The 
result is that such action will appear even more stiff and un- 
natural in the film than on the operatic stage. For we have 
in the course of time become accustomed to this style on the 
operatic stage, it has become traditional and conventional and 
is in harmony with the 'unnatural' stylization of stage, scenery 
and visible orchestra. In the unstylized, photographed 'natural' 
world of the film the operatic style of acting (which, however, 



is determined by the music) will in most cases impress the 
audience as an impossible, a ridiculous contradiction. For this 
reason, when filming a classical opera, it is mostly advisable 
to present it as a reproduction of an ordinary operatic per- 
formance. In this case the most operatically stylized perform- 
ance will still give a realistic picture, because it will be the 
faithful reproduction of a familiar reality, and gestures and 
deportment which would strike us as ridiculous if seen in a 
real street, do not appear ridiculous, and are perfectly accept- 
able, if we see the stage on which they happen. 

Of course even in such operatic films, technique can do 
much to loosen up the old-fashioned rigidity which is scarcely 
tolerable even on the stage to-day. For even though what is 
being photographed is not nature but a stage performance, 
close-ups, changing set-ups and angles, and good editing can 
do much dramatically to enliven the opera and make it more 
palatable to the present-day spectator. 

From the beginning films often contained scenes enacted 
on the stage or platform, especially if the hero of the film was 
an actor. Such scene were scenes of real life no less than any 
street scene and their unnatural style was natural, for every- 
one knew that here was a stage and that this was what stages 
were like. Nevertheless such scenes were shot with every trick 
of the trade and a good director would make use of the 
specific media and technique of the film with which to stress 
the theatrical quality of the stage, very often in a satirical vein. 
Rene Clair was never more specifically filmic than when he 
parodied the grotesquely unnatural character of stage style in 
his films. 

But even if a film is intended to present the operatic per- 
formance seriously in all its classical, original style, it should 
still do so in the language of the modern film. The original 
style must be preserved in the first place because, as has al- 
ready been said, the music demands it. Classical music may be 
cut if need be, but cannot be changed. But the classical operas 
were written to old, much-stylized libretti, the archaic dramatic 
structure of which they must thus immutably preserve. If on 
the operatic stage two mortal enemies stand face to face with 
drawn swords and instead of going for each other hammer and 


tongs, sing about their mutual hatred for half an hour, that is 
bearable only on the operatic stage, where an ancient and 
noble cultural tradition protects them from ridicule. And after 
all it is the singing that is the most valuable in the scene just 
mentioned. But it does not follow from this that such a scene 
must absolutely be photographed in a setting of painted 
scenery. After all, operas are often performed in open-air 
theatres, in a natural setting. But even if the setting is natural, 
it must nevertheless be scenery and the public must know that 
it is scenery and that it is watching an operatic performance, 
even if the performance is staged in a real wood. If this is 
done, the outdated stylization of the action and acting (which 
cannot be avoided because the music requires it) will not be 
out of keeping with the natural environment. 

By this device operas can be shown in the film with 
far greater decorative freedom than on the best of operatic 
stages. In the open-air theatre all of nature can be used for 

However, in the operatic film the question of natural and 
unnatural presentation is not only a question of setting and 
scenery, but of direction and acting as well. Little can be 
changed in a dialogue inlaid with classical music. However 
ornate and long-winded it may appear to our taste, neither 
single sentences nor the whole dialogue can be cut without 
damaging the classical music. In a film depicting real life, 
such a dialogue would be impossible. In a film depicting 
scenes from an opera, it is natural. 

Another problem which must be solved is the grimacing of 
singers. Those who sing consider in the first place the ears of 
the public, not their eyes. The talkie already posed a difficult 
problem when it compelled the actor to speak in a way intelli- 
gible to the ear, not the eye. The movement of a singer's mouth 
in close-up is a problem even more difficult of solution. The 
accurate forming of vowels and consonants made the move- 
ments of the lips empty and grotesque. How much more does 
this apply to singing! All this is less objectionable from the 
distance of the stage, but the nearness of the close-up can 
make it very unpleasant. This difficulty may be at least par- 
tially overcome by using the technique of the 'play-back', i.e. 



the actors may be photographed merely mouthing their words, 
their singing being dubbed on to the film later. 

The technique of the film also puts us in the position of 
being able to listen to a long aria without having to look the 
singer in the mouth all the time. The camera can meanwhile 
wander around and show, for instance, the things to which 
the aria refers : the object of love, or a landscape, or a dwell- 
ing or a threatening danger. The stage must remain stage and 
the public must be always conscious of this, but it need not be 
incessantly before our eyes in the close-ups. If this is done 
properly, rigidly immobile scenery and groups of extras will 
not bother us. For they may be immobile but the camera is 
not; it moves and the rhythm of the shot-sequence also moves, 
and this rhythm, adapting itself to the rhythm of the music, 
can emphasize and interpret it. 

The technique of the film and especially the colour film 
will fulfil an important mission by popularizing the classical 
opera. In most cases operas will still have to be cut, for films 
running for more than two hours are as yet difficult to set 
before a public, though this difficulty will disappear in time. 
Such cutting must be governed by musical considerations and 
hence it is the music that should be cut first, and the drama- 
turgical cut must follow it. This can rarely be done by means 
of simple omission — single scenes and often even the course 
of the action have to be re-aligned. All this will not affect the 
spirit of the opera as long as the music safeguards it. But here 
are no easy tasks and the shooting of an operatic film is 
scarcely less of a venture on the part of director, actors and 
technical team than making an original film. 


In speaking of the film opera, that is an opera intended and 
composed for the film, we must unfortunately discuss an art 
form which has not yet been realized. Attempts have been 
made, but without much success. The reasons for this provide 
an interesting problem, because in theory and principle the 
possibility of a film opera can be quite easily proved. 

In operettas, musical comedies, revues and all other musical 


stage productions (hence in the popular film variants of these 
art forms) the players sing songs. In certain dramatic situations 
the characters express their feelings by means of a song. In 
this in itself there is nothing unnatural or stylized, for even 
in everyday life people sing when they are in a certain mood. 
Hence this in itself is not improbable. But in the opera, in the 
film opera as in all other operas, the characters not only sing 
songs, they also converse with each other by singing and this 
is what is unnatural, stylized, improbable. 

In the operetta and any musical drama an inset song may 
have a dramaturgical part to play. For instance the song 
may be the signal for something to happen; the characters may 
recognize each other by means of the song; someone who has 
lost all hope may be cheered and reinvigorated by a song. But 
in such cases the song is a finished, closed piece of music and 
is used almost in the way a prop is used. The same drama- 
turgical part might be played by a light signal for instance. 
Such a song may bring about a dramatic situation, but the song 
itself will not be the result of such a situation, it will not be 
born before our eyes, out of the situation. The song is already 
in existence as a finished thing and is merely used or applied 
in the given situation. A song thus used may start off a whole 
chain of action, but the action is not carried forward in the 
song itself. The song expresses a certain state of mind, but the 
evolution of the soul does not manifest itself in the music. The 
song may express a stage in the story, but the story is not 
continued in the music as it is in the opera. 

Music was from the beginning much more closely linked 
with the film than with the stage. It is organically and struc- 
turally as much a part of the film picture, as are light and 
shadow. Music was an indispensable element of the silent film 
and is no less indispensable in the sound film. 

On the stage, background music always gives the scene a 
certain melodramatic, festive or lyrical character and back- 
ground music is rarely used in the theatre save for specially 
stressing some mood prevalent in a scene. 

The music accompanying the silent film did not in normal 
circumstances produce any special festive or lyrical effect un- 
less the pictures that went with it expressed such moods. But 


we always feel the need of music with the silent film, even 
with the most objective, instructional or informative film. 

A silent film seen without musical accompaniment makes the 
spectator feel uncomfortable, a phenomenon which has a 
psycho-physical explanation. The explanation is that for the 
silent film the music was not merely an additional instrument 
for expressing a mood but to some extent a sort of third dimen- 
sion added to the two dimensions of the screen. 

As long as the spectator hears music, he does not become 
conscious of the fact that the grey film-pictures have only two 
dimensions and lack real depth; he accepts the image on the 
screen as a true picture of live reality. But as soon as the 
moving pictures really become silent, they at once appear flat, 
the flickering of suddenly bloodless shadows. It is a fact con- 
firmed by much experience that the greater part of the public 
is not conscious of hearing music in the cinema. They imme- 
diately notice, however, when the music ceases. The psycho- 
logical reason for this is that we never perceive reality by 
means of one sense alone. What we merely hear or merely 
see, etc. has no three-dimensional reality for us. 

The conclusion to be drawn from this is that music in the 
film has not only an artistic part to play — it is required in 
order that the pictures may give the impression of being alive 
and natural; music gives the pictures atmosphere and repre- 
sents, as it were, a third dimension. The music provides an 
acoustic background and perspective. It must never become 
music for music's sake — as soon as this happens the music 
detaches itself from the picture and destroys its life. 

Every problem of the film opera can be traced back to this 
nature of film music. 

As has already been said, the 'sung' dialogue and 'sung'' 
dramatic action are not natural; they are strongly stylized 
forms. Very real feelings can be most realistically expressed in 
sung dialogues. But the medium of expression will not be 
natural — it will be stylized and hence out of keeping with the 
essence of the film. For similar reasons films with rhymed or 
rhythmic dialogue have not been a success. It has been re- 
peatedly shown in these pages why the illusion of naturalness 
is more indispensable in the film than on the stage. The film 


may show us the real nature of fairyland, but must never 
depict our workaday world by means of painted scenery. It 
has already been said why a similar illusion is required to 
make the acting seem real. 

In the film opera, which will also not tolerate stylization, 
the most difficult problem to be solved will not be the scenery 
and direction but the music itself. The reason for this is that 
musical expression, expression in words and expression in 
feature-play and gesture, are of unequal duration. The most 
profound and complicated emotions may appear all at once in 
a single movement of facial muscles or one gesture, taking up 
only a second or two of time — or to put it in film language, a 
few feet of film. To express the same emotion or state of mind 
in words would take more time and more footage. But while 
the character in question is talking about his feelings, he pre- 
serves them precisely by speaking of them, and the accom- 
panying facial expression may remain on his face all the time 
he speaks of the same emotion. 

To express the same emotion in melody takes longer. Even 
a few bars take more time and footage and by the time the 
film gets through with it, the character, if it moves at a natural 
speed, would long be expressing a different mood by means of 
a different facial expression and gesture. It was not without 
good reason that Wagner, in directing his operas, made his 
singers move much slower than would have been natural. The 
tied stylized periods of the antique drama were spoken by 
actors on thick-soled buskins, which also slowed down move- 
ment; it is a known fact that opera was born in the sixteenth 
century out of the attempt to find a style and manner suitable 
for the staging of the antique tragedy and the singing of the 
recitatives seemed a suitable means of slowing down the 

Why such stylized slowing-down is possible on the stage 
and impossible in the film has another deeper reason as well. 

When Senta and the flying Dutchman first meet in Wagner's 
Flying Dutchman, they stare at each other in motionless 
silence. This spell of motionless silence, which lasts nearly 
twenty minutes, escapes being a lifeless patch on the stage, 
because the music of the orchestra expresses the dramatic 



movement of their thoughts and emotions. This is possible on 
the stage but in the film a musical movement cannot take the 
place of a visual movement. The rhythm of detail shots and 
cross-cutting can bridge for a time the always damaging effect 
of a pause in the picture sequence. But not for long. On the 
stage the motionless figures retain their life because the public 
knows that they are alive, hence supposes and accepts that 
something is happening in their hearts, however rigidly motion- 
less they appear to be. But the rigidity of a photograph is not 
semblance — it is reality. The immobility of a good painting is 
the quintessence of motion and never dead, but the film can 
only stop by showing a single frame as a snapshot — and in that 
instant is dead. 

This does not mean that a film opera is beyond the bounds 
of possibility — only that the shots must be as stylized as pos- 
sible. This, as we know, is possible to a very great extent by 
the technical means at our disposal. Such stylization will be 
most convincing if it takes the content for its starting-point. 
For in the case of fairy-tales, legends or fantastic stories, no 
one is surprised if the formal aspect of the presentation is not 
natural but stylized. The miraculousness of a miracle is not 
surprising — what would be surprising would be a non-miracu- 
lous miracle. Fairyland landscapes are the more strange the 
more accurate the photographs are in which they are shown, 
and singing speech goes well with singing gestures. 



The hero, the paragon, the model and example is an 
indispensable element in the poetry of all races and peoples, 
from the ancient epics to the modern film. This is a mani- 
festation of the natural selection of the best, of the instinctive 
urge towards improvement, a postulate of biology, not of 
aesthetics. In the course of the cultural history of man, chang- 
ing, increasingly discerning tastes modified merely the beau 
ideal of the hero according to the t interests of the class, the 
wishful thinking of which determined the hero's qualities and 

The physical being of the hero, the ideal of beauty, was a 
signpost for more than biological selection and evolution. 
From the beginning it also appeared in literature and art in 
sublimated form, as the physiognomic expression of spiritual 
and ethical values. In the age of conceptual culture initiated 
by the invention of printing (of which mention was made 
earlier on) the bodily visibility of human values lost its signifi- 
cance. Beauty was no longer a dream and an experience of 
great masses. The revival of visual culture with the advent of 
the film has again made physical beauty an important experi- 
ence of the masses. If to-day every illustrated paper of the 
world is full of the pictures of beautiful women, this does not 
mean that all mankind has grown less serious-minded. Illus- 
trated papers existed long before the films, but they were at 
that time not galleries of physical beauty. On the other hand in 
ancient Athens, where there were no illustrated papers, the 
streets and squares were full of ideal images of human bodies 
in the guise of gods and goddesses and pregnant women came 
to look at them in order that the fruit of their wombs would 
be as beautiful as those images. For images of beauty were 



the manifestations of the primeval desire for improvement. In 
this age of film culture, when man has again become visible, 
he has again been awakened to consciousness of beauty, and 
the visual propaganda of beauty is again an expression of 
deep-seated biological and social urges. 

The physical incarnation of the hero or heroine is beauty 
of a kind which exactly expresses the ideologies and aspira- 
tions of those who admire it. We must learn to read beauty, 
as we have learned to read the face. A scientific analysis of 
what we now call sex appeal, for instance, would greatly en- 
rich our knowledge of social psychology. 

Periods and classes which had no epics, and no ideal of 
beauty, were ever decadent periods or classes. A society which 
loudly proclaims the idea of a new humanity will always seek 
for the ideal physical type of this new man as well as other 
qualities. And what is meant by this are not some profound 
beauties of the soul which show in the face, nor that other 
'beauty' which is merely an inexact term for the expressive 
power of a work of art. What is meant by beauty in the follow- 
ing is simply and literally the natural beauty of the body 
which plays so great a part in film art. 

Art snobs often affect to despise the beauty of film stars 
and tend to regard beauty as a disturbing secondary effect 
which rouses base instincts and has nothing to do with 'real 
art'. But such a universal cultural phenomenon as the film 
must not be measured solely by the standards of a purely 
artistic production. For beyond this the vital instincts and 
social tendencies of mankind manifest themselves in so signifi- 
cant a form in the film that they cannot be disregarded. 

The film stars who have been most successful did not owe 
their popularity to their histrionic gifts, even if they happened 
to be excellent actors. The most popular of them did not act 
at all, or rather acted only themselves. Not only Charlie 
Chaplin remained always the same Charlie in every film, with- 
out changing mask, costume or manner. Douglas Fairbanks, 
Asta Nielsen, Lilian Gish, Rudolph Valentino and others of 
the greatest also remained the same. They were no creators of 
characters. Their names, costumes, social positions could be 
changed in their various parts, but they always showed the 


same personality and this personality was their own. For the 
dominant element in the impression they made was their per- 
sonal appearance. They turned up as old acquaintances in each 
new film and it was not they who assumed the mask of the 
character they played — on the contrary, the parts were written 
for them in advance, were made to measure for them so to 
speak. For what the public loved was not their acting ability, 
but they themselves, their personal charm and attraction. Of 
course to possess such charm is also a great thing. But as an 
art it most resembles lyrical poetry, which also expresses the 
poet's heart and not things external. These great film stars 
were great lyrical poets whose medium v/as not the word, but 
the body, the facial expression and gesture; the parts they 
played merely chance opportunities of exercising this their art. 

Such world-wide adulation as that which surrounded these 
legendary stars cannot be evoked by the most brilliant stage 
performance in itself. There are very many excellent and even 
great actors in the world. Many of them have been, and are, 
far better actors than those demigods of the film in whom 
many millions of fans saw the incarnation of their own 
dreams, and whose art consists only in the ability to express 
their own personality with complete intensity. But such a per- 
sonality must be more than just interesting and attractive. 
There are very many interesting and attractive people in the 
world. If Charlie Chaplin came to be the best-beloved darling 
of half the human race, then millions of men and women must 
have seen in his personality something that means much to 
them; Charlie Chaplin's personality must have expressed some- 
thing that lived in all of them as a secret feeling, urge or 
desire, some unconscious thought, something that far tran- 
scends the limits of personal charm or artistic performance. 
The golden-hearted, shiftless, blundering, cunning little tramp, 
the victim of mechanization and capitalism, who hits back 
with grotesquely resourceful pinpricks — Charlie, with his 
melancholy optimism, expresses the opposition of all of us 
to an inhuman order of society. 

Up to now Greta Garbo was the most popular star in the 
world. This is said not on the basis of aesthetic considerations. 
There is a better, more exact, indeed absolutely accurate stan- 


dard. This standard is the amount in dollars which was the 
reward of her popularity. 

It was not the actress Garbo who conquered the hearts of 
the world. Garbo is not a bad actress, but her popularity is 
due to her beauty. Though even this is not so simple. Mere 
beauty is a matter of taste, of sex appeal, and for this one 
reason alone cannot have the same effect on many millions of 
people in the whole world to the same degree. And then there 
are so many perfectly beautiful women that the harmony of 
Garbo's lines could not in itself have ensured such a unique 
privileged position for her. 

Garbo's beauty is not just a harmony of lines, it is not merely 
ornamental. Her beauty contains a physiognomy expressing 
a very definite state of mind. 

Like the face of all other actors, Greta Garbo's face changes 
during a scene. She, too, laughs and is sad, is surprised or 
angry, as prescribed by her part. Her face, too, may be once 
that of a queen and once that of a bedraggled drab, according 
to what character she has to play. But behind this variety of 
facial expression we can always see that unchanged Garbo 
face, the fixed unchanged expression of which has conquered 
the world. It is not mere beauty, but a beauty of peculiar 
significance, a beauty expressing one particular thing, that has 
captured the heart of half mankind. And what is this thing? 

Greta Garbo is sad. Not only in certain situations, for cer- 
tain reasons. Greta Garbo's beauty is a beauty of suffering; 
she suffers fife and all the surrounding world. And this sad- 
ness, this sorrow is a very definite one : the sadness of loneli- 
ness, of an estrangement which feels no common tie with 
other human beings. The sadness of the inner nobility of a 
reticent purity, of the shrinking of a sensitive plant from a 
rude touch is in this beauty, even when she plays a down-and- 
out tart. Her brooding glance comes from afar even then and 
looks into the endless distance. Even then she is an exile in a 
distant land and does not know how she ever came to be 
where she is. 

But why should this strange sort of beauty affect millions 
more deeply than some bright and sparkling pin-up girl? 
What is the meaning of the Garbo expression? 


We feel and see Greta Garbo's beauty as finer and nobler, 
precisely because it bears the stamp of sorrow and loneliness. 
For however harmonious may be the lines of a face, if it is 
contentedly smiling, if it is bright and happy, if it can be 
bright and happy in this world of ours, then it must of neces- 
sity belong to an inferior human being. Even the usually insen- 
sitive person can understand that a sad and suffering beauty, 
gestures expressing horror at the touch of an unclean world, 
indicate a higher order of human being, a purer and nobler 
soul than smiles and mirth. Greta Garbo's beauty is a beauty 
which is in opposition to the world of to-day. 

Millions see in her face a protest against this world, millions 
who may perhaps not even be conscious as yet of their own 
suffering protest; but they admire Garbo for it and find her 
beauty the most beautiful of all. 


Abel, Alfred, 91 
Academie Francaise, 18, 49 
Adventures of a Ten-Mark Note, 

The, 159-160 
^Esop, 188 

Alexandrov, 136, 234 
Anna Karenina, 137 
Arsenal, 82-83 
Asphalt, 141 

Baltic Deputy, 66-67 

Bandello, 263 

Bartok, Bela, 181 

Basset, 175, 177 

Battleship Potemkin, The, 100-101, 

112, 113 
Baudelaire, 93, 115 
Bergson, Henri, 61-62 
Berlin, 133, 178 
Boule de Suif, 70-7 '1 
Bridge, Tl h e, 175-176 

Cabinet of Dr Caligari, The, 105- 
106, 108, 270 

Carmen, 275 

Cavalcanti, 133, 179 

Chang, 163 

Chapayev, 143-144, 145, 250, 251 

Chaplin, Charlie, 25, 28, 51, 136, 
220, 221, 225, 234, 236-239, 284, 

Chekhov, 255 

Chelyuskin, 171-172 

Cimabue, 37 

Circus, 136 

Clair, Rene, 157, 222, 276 

Cocteau, 179 

Comedie Francaise, 49 

Contributions to Lavater's Physio- 
gnomic Fragments, 93 

Coogan, Jackie, 25 

Cretinetti, 28 

Defoe, 267 

Der Geist des Films, 194 

Der sichtbare Mensch, 21, 39-45, 

Disney, Walt, 193 


Dovzhenko, 82, 94, 95 
Dreyer, 74, 140 

Edison, 163 

Eggeling, 181 

Eisenstein, 75, 79, 82, 100-101, 104, 

112, 115, 119, 127, 128, 134, 

Ekk, 243, 244 
End of St Petersburg, The, 111, 

Epstein, 180 
Erdmann, 212 
Ermelr, 124, 217 

Face of the Ruling Classes, The, 

Fairbanks, Douglas, 284 
Fall of the House of Usher, The, 

Felix the Cat, 191-192 
Film Eye, 164 
Flying Dutchman, 236, 281 
Forged Coupon, The, 160 
Freund, Karl, 160 

Gad, Urban, 24 

Garbo, Greta, 137, 285-287 

General Line, The, 134 

Giotto, 37 38 

Gish, Lilian, 65, 72-73, 136, 225, 

Goethe, 93, 264 
Gogh, Van, 96 
Gorky, 164 

Great Dictator, The, 238 
Great Waltz, The, 111 
Griffith, David Wark, 18, 31, 35, 

50, 51, 61, 65, 72, 125 
Grosz, George, 192 
Grune, Karl, 99, 178 

Hamburgische Dramaturgic 252, 

Hauptmann, Gerhart, 108 
Hayakawa, Sessue, 75 
Hebbel, Friedrich, 263, 264 
Hitchcock, Alfred, 140 



Hitler, 165 

Hollywood, 31, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 

Homecoming, 146 
Homer, 59, 273 
Hugo, Victor, 39 

// Sole Sorgp Ancora, 203 

Inflation, 179 

Intolerance, 51 

Ivan, 94 

Ivan the Terrible, 115, 270 

Ivens, Joris, 99, 168, 175-176, 177 

Jazz Comedy, 136, 234 

Keaton, Buster, 28, 234 

Kid, The, 25 

Korda, Alexander, 115 

Lady Hamilton, 115 

Lady in the Lake, The, 134 

La Fontaine, 188 

Lang, Fritz, 270 

Laokoon, 59, 259 

Last Night, The, 87 

Lenin, 67, 164 

Lenin in October, 67 

Lessing, 59, 251-252, 259 

Linder, Max, 27, 28 

Lumiere Brothers, 23, 221, 256 

Maeterlinck, 77 

Market on the Wittenbergplatz, 

Marx, Karl, 60, 98 
Maupassant, 70, 255 
May, Joe, 141, 146 
Meiies, George, 29 
Meunier, 98 
Mickey Mouse, 233 
Moana, 163 
Modern Tim,es, 233 
Monet, Claude, 116, 176 
Monsieur Verdoux, 238 
Montmartre, 179 
Moskvin, 270 
Mother, 126, 127 
Murnau, 270 

Narcosis, 91, 149, 150 
New Year's Eve, 127 
Nielsen, Asta, 18, 64, 65-66, 69, 
132, 225, 284 

October, 82, 112-113, 128, 160 

Old and the New, The, 134 

Ostrovski, 226 

Paganini, 200, 201 

Party Crowd, 220 

Pasteur, 163 

Pathe Freres, 24, 25 

Petersburg Night, 201 

Petrarch, 97 

Phantom, 108-109 

Pieck, Lupu, 85, 127, 131 

Piquard, Colonel, 169 

Piscator, Erwin, 135 

Pour la Paix du Monde, 169 

Prince, 28 

Ptushko, 188 

Pudovkin, 79, 80, 111, 112, 126, 

127, 128 
Pyriev, 136 

Racine, 49 

Rain, 175-176 

Ray, Man, 179, 181 

Reisman, 87 

Renoir, 37, 179 

Richter, Hans, 179 

Riegl, Alois, 158 

Rien que l,es heures, 133 

Rigoletto, 275 

Rin-Tin-Tin, 25 

Romeo and Juliet, 48 

Romm, Michael, 70 

Rope, 140 

Roshal, Grigori, 201 

Rostand, 77 

Ruins of an Empire, 124-125 

Ruttmann, Walter, 133, 178 

Schiffer, 182 

Schlegel, 122 

Scott, Captain, 171 

Shackleton, Sir Ernest, 171 

Shakespeare, 20, 229, 247, 263 

Shchukin, 67 

Shoulder Arms, 142 

Societe des Auteurs Dramatiques, 

Sophocles, 267 
Sous les Toits de Paris, 222 
Storm, 226 

Strauss, Johann, 182, 217 
Street, The, 178 
Strindberg, 85 

Ten Days that Shook the World 

(see October) 
Thirteen, The, 57 
Tisse, 104, 113 



Tolstoy, 160 
Turin, 166 
Turksib, 166-168 

Valentino, Rudolph, 284 

Vanina, 69, 132 

Veidt, Conrad, 78, 136, 200 

Verdi, 275 

Vergano, 203 

Vertov, Dziga, 164 

Vidor, King, 86 

Viertel, Berthold, 159-160 
Vivere in pace, 202 

Wagner, 236, 281 

Westerns, 25 

Wiene, Robert, 106, 270 

Yoshiwara, 116, 140, 178 

Zuidersee, 168 
Zampa, Luigi, 202 

This book is printed in llpt Times New 
Roman, designed for The Times under 
the direction of Stanley Morison in 1931. 


Sergei Eisenstein 

The compilation of this book was 
one of the last tasks of the great 
director of 'Ten Days that Shook 
the World', 'Alexander Nevsky', 
and other great masterpieces of the 

Eisenstein was an experimenter, 
an innovator, and the possessor of 
one of the most active minds ever to 
apply its talents to the film medium. 
In his way he was the same stimula- 
tive giant to films that Joyce is to 
literature or Picasso to modern 
painting. Consequently, this book 
which supplements his previous 
'The Film Sense' is vitally important 
for any person interested in the film. 
Of his hundreds of essays, this group 
was selected to show certain key- 
points in the development of his 
film theory and, in particular, of his 
analysis of the sound-film medium. 

This is obviously a basic book and 
must find a place in every public and 
private library which has a section 
devoted to the theatre and cinema. 

'Film Form is undeniably the 
work of one of the few genuine 
artists the cinema has yet produced.' 


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